S1: Hello, Dear Prudence listeners, Danny Avari here with some big news or maybe Edom size news, depending on your perspective, the big to medium sized news is that I’m officially coming to the end of my tenure as Dear Prudence. It’s been a wonderful, fabulous, almost five year journey. But don’t worry, I’m not leaving entirely. And you don’t have to change your podcast routine. I’ll still be here every week at Slate on my new show, which is called Big Mood. Little Mood with Danny Laborie. And it’s not exactly a new show because I’ll still have guests and will still read letters and give advice. Just fewer letters, less advice and more questions about the greater themes. And if you’re already subscribed to the Dear Prudence podcast, you don’t even have to do anything. I’ll just see you here on May 25th. It’s kind of just as straightforward as if I were getting a new haircut and I’ve gotten several haircuts over the course of my time as Dear Prudence. So no need to worry. I’ve done this before. I don’t think I actually have any little news at all because I also want to congratulate Jenny Desmond Harris, who will be taking over as the next Dear Prudence and who’s going to make an absolutely fantastic prudence. I cannot wait to start reading the column again. I have missed that during my last five years. So there you have it. Big mood, little mood with Danny LaVere premieres on May 25th in this very spot. See you next week.
S2: You for your prudence, prudence, if prudent here, pretty. Do you think that I should contact him again? No help. Thank thank. Thank you.
S1: Hello and welcome back to The Dear Prudence Show once again, and as always, I am your host, Dear Prudence, also known as Daniel M. Laverty. And with me in the studio this week is Kate Duffy, a licensed clinical social worker in New York. She’s worked as a therapist and clinical supervisor in a variety of settings, including shelters, residential group homes and outpatient clinics.
S3: Kate, welcome to the show. Hi, Danny. Thanks for having me. Really excited to be here.
S1: Thank you so much, as you already know, but our listeners don’t. I’m currently recording this whilst very sweaty and trapped in a little greenhouse that is my closet. So over the course of the episode, I expect that my answers are going to get like more and more brisk and more and more like I am an old man and I am sweating. Please fix your problems. Get out. So I’m going to start somewhat patient and just really like, you know, turning the hose on everybody.
S3: I think that’s perfectly reasonable given your circumstances.
S1: You say that. But as we have also established, a lot of today’s questions are quite like thorny, complicated, require a lot of attention and care. So my hope is my hope is I can start to cool down before I give anybody really devastating advice.
S3: Yeah, I think there’s hope. Definitely. We have some tough questions for sure.
S1: We do. We do. And I’m going to get us started with a bang. I’m going to read our first letter, the subject of which is, am I overreacting? Dear Prudence, my husband and I have been married for just over a year throughout our relationship. He has been a supportive and empathetic partner who makes me feel loved and understood. Recently, after a long night out drinking with friends, we got into a heated argument. I’m embarrassed to say that I began poking my finger at his face as I became frustrated. But his response truly shocked and frightened me. He bit down on my finger hard and continued biting until the skin broke and my fingers started to bleed. The fight ended then because we were both taken aback by our behavior. Now I have finished the course of antibiotics for this injury, but I can’t stop worrying about it. My husband assured me it will never happen again. But I have found myself up late every night obsessively reading about what this incident was, hoping I can classify it and what it might mean for our relationship. My husband is ashamed when I bring it up, but also asserts that as I was the one who initially made the fight physical, that his action was a reasonable and natural response. That doesn’t sit well with me, but I also don’t want to overreact or make him feel unnecessary. Shame am I overreacting and by underestimating my role in this situation. Hmm, yes, indeed, I think one thing I want to steer this letter writer away from is this thing that her husband seems to be really pushing for, which is like we can just figure out who started it. And if we can figure out that, then that just means, well, you started it. Things happen and fights. They won’t happen again. I can’t really tell you how I know that’s going to happen because we didn’t think this would happen before it happened. But don’t worry about it that I think we can just set to the side. This is not about if you start a fight, you deserve whatever escalation comes to you. You don’t have to have been right to poke his face for him to bite you until you bled to be OK or justified. That that’s just not how this works.
S3: I 100 percent agree with you. Yeah, I was really taken aback by this letter. You know, the part that just really stuck out to me that I furiously underlined and like that a bunch of exclamation points next to my notes. You know, he’s asserting that his action was, quote, a reasonable and natural response. That is not true. You know, like you said, Danny. Yeah. Is it not great to poke your partner’s face in frustration when you’re fighting? Absolutely. Don’t do that. That’s not a good thing to do. But for this guy to assert that he couldn’t help but then bite down your finger until you bled and required antibiotics, I find that pretty troubling. You’re not overreacting about that. That is I’m just going to be really real about that. You’re not overreacting. That is truly unacceptable. Violent behavior
S1: point blank. Yeah. And so this kind of combination of he feels ashamed when you mention it, but then he says, don’t worry, it’ll never happen again. And it’s sort of like, well, if we can’t talk about it and identify it and name it and talk about what led up to it, where is that assurance coming from? Right. And so especially that he is combining that like I’m really ashamed. Don’t bring it up, followed by, you know, he immediately drops the shame like a garment. And it’s like, well, actually it was fine, you know, like that she disappears when he feels defensive. And so it’s like he’ll shift instantly from like, oh, I feel too bad. Don’t make me feel ashamed. Don’t make me feel bad about how I bit you and then moves into, well, you know, you made the fight physical. It’s your fault. And so,
S3: yeah, I mean this, this really reads to me, you know, and again, we’re getting this from the perspective of the spouse and not the spouse who did the biting. I guess the spouse did the poking and suggested the biting. But we’re getting that perspective. But what I’m really hearing, you know, from what’s not being said by the other partner is that this person is doing a ton of mental gymnastics to try to justify. Right. Like why this happened. And like you said, kind of, you know, picking up and dropping the feelings as they come, like not wanting to be made to feel bad about the fact that he did something really violent towards his wife or husband or partner. And I think the key here is like understanding that. Sometimes people need to feel ashamed, right, sometimes people need shame in order to grow, in order to make different decisions, in order to atone for what they’ve done. And I’m not suggesting that the shame is just going to fix your relationship or fix the way you feel about this interaction or make it OK. But I do think that your your husband should feel ashamed. Right. Like that’s how he should feel for you. Yes.
S1: Yeah. And again, you know, you’re not bringing this up because you want him to hate himself for the rest of his life. You are bringing this up because it was violent and bewildering and scary and nothing like that has happened before. You want to feel some sense of confidence that you you both are committed to not doing that again. So, again, this is not about trying to figure out who’s at fault and who’s not at fault. It’s not about making one person completely blameless and then the other person is the only problem. You know, that said, I’m also aware that it is not uncommon for abusive partners to justify abusiveness with something that the other partner has done that was also not OK, but does not rise to that same level. And so, you know, that’s where it kind of just gets into it for me. If like, no, you shouldn’t have poked your husband’s face during the argument, that wasn’t good. It doesn’t suddenly put these things on the same level playing field. And that as I think the thing that gave me the most pause, because it is not uncommon for abusive partners to attempt to weaponize another partner’s either like attempts to defend themselves or their own, like imperfect or bad behavior as justification for a real violent escalation.
S3: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I, I just think that no matter what, like you said, Danny, with you know, this writer talks about trying to hope that that they can classify it rightly. They use the word classify. What you’re classifying is this is abuse. This is violence. That’s not to say that I believe I take them at their word that this has never happened before and that it was truly shocking. But I agree with you that, you know, there is no excuse. Right? Like, it doesn’t matter what you did. It doesn’t matter whether you spoke to this person. You yelled at them. Yeah. Those are not great things to do. But your partner escalating it to the point where you were bleeding and yet antibiotics, to me that says a lot. And I think that that is a sign that something is not working in this relationship. What that is, I can’t say. You know, I’m not saying that you can never move past this in whatever capacity you want to move past it. But I. I would be very, very hesitant to do that, and I would really think, you know. Pretty hard about what this means and what the future is going to hold in that way.
S1: Yeah, yeah. I think the thing that in addition to the intense violent escalation that came from just, again, you know, letter writer, he bit on your finger and he kept biting until the skin broke and you started bleeding. That’s not. That’s something that’s big, that is, he could have his other options in that moment were move away, you know, step back, leave the room, take a walk, hit a lot of options to de-escalate. And none of them needed to involve that kind of violence. You know, I think the thing that concerns me here the most is you say I don’t want to make him feel unnecessary shame. So like you just finished a course of antibiotics because this man bit your finger so hard that you bled and you are now worried that if you don’t act in the right way, he will feel too bad. And I don’t quite know what the like implied end of that sentence is like. He’ll feel unnecessary shame, which will lead him to maybe do it again the next time we fight or which will lead him to shut me out emotionally or something else, but. You know, it’d be one thing if you were waking him up every morning and saying you’re a monster, you’re the worst person in the world, hate yourself, then I think we could probably start talking about unnecessary shame. That’s not what’s happening. You want to talk about what happened. You want to understand how you can feel confident that he’s not going to do that again the next time he has a few drinks or gets mad at you. And that’s what you’re asking for. None of that requires unnecessary shame. It does require for him to confront the fact that he harms you physically, but he needs to be able to do that. And he can do more than just feel shame about it. He can acknowledge the ways. And it was wrong. He can seek to repair trust. He can commit to making sure he doesn’t do it again. He can seek accountability from people he cares about. He can take care of you. All of those are available to him. He doesn’t have to sit with or stay in shame. So to me, the next move is get some sunlight on this. And I can really, really imagine that right now that might feel like the worst thing in the world, because I would imagine that part of you would be thinking, no, no, no, this was a one time event. If I tell people they’re going to overreact, they’re going to make him feel even worse. They’ll think he’s a monster when I know that he really is. And it was partly my fault. I really shouldn’t have provoked him. I would feel embarrassed if someone knew that I spoke to him in the face. So what I need to do is just stay up late at night obsessively reading about this, try to categorize it in my mind. I can fix it on my own and without trying to catastrophe’s here. I think that is a recipe for making you feel protective of him when he’s violent towards you, like it’s your responsibility to maintain his reputation, like you don’t have anyone you can be really honest with. And that is a recipe for continued violent abuse and isolation.
S3: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, this stuff breeds within silence, right? Like the the biggest the biggest factor. I think one of the biggest factors with intimate partner violence, domestic violence is silence. And like you said, sort of this idea that by keeping it to yourself, it doesn’t really mean as much as it should mean. I think there’s a huge tendency to try to do our own sort of internal justification or, you know, just sort of stew in it. And I totally agree with you, Danny. I think that I really hope that this writer can find someone to talk to, whether that is a therapist, whether that’s a trusted friend or a family member, but somebody who can. Reflect a little bit of light on this and hopefully, you know, through some of those conversations this letter writer can have, you know, I’m hoping a little bit more understanding of where they want to go because it’s interesting the questions that are asked. And here are, you know, I want to be careful of not like just saying this is what you should do or this is the next step, because I realize, like, it’s kind of funny that they’re not asking that. Right. Like the questions that were being asked are am I overreacting and am I underestimating my role in the situation? And while I think that those are understandable questions that would come to mind after something like this, especially something that’s like really shocking and like this person says, not reflective of how the relationship has been in the past. And those aren’t like questions that you shouldn’t ask. But I really encourage you to think that there is some much bigger questions than that. You know, that you can’t stop there, right? It’s to me there’s there has to be other questions that are being asked, because the answer to the first question is, no, you’re not overreacting. I want to emphatically say that, again, you’re not overreacting to be upset and hurt and scared that your husband bit your finger until you bled and or you underestimate your role in the situation. That’s a hard question to answer because. Sure, yes. Like we’ve said, you did do something wrong in poking your husband’s face. I’m not going to say that that’s a good thing to do. But are you underestimating your role? I would I would say no, because like Danny, you said earlier, your husband had choices, right? When a fight is escalating and when your spouse is getting in your face and poking you and you’re both drunk or one of you is drunk and you’re yelling and things are escalating, there are choices when you’re an adult, right. Like you can choose. I’m not going to bite down on my spouse’s finger. I’m going to step away or I’m going to remove myself from a situation like leave the house, go for a walk. Like you said, there are so many things that could have been done differently. Drinking, not drinking, intoxicated, not intoxicated. It doesn’t matter. This is really frightening.
S1: Mm hmm. And as you were saying, like, there’s such a difference between no, it’s not right for you to poke your spouse in the face when you’re fighting. That’s not your role in this situation in the sense of did you do something to invite that kind of violence? No, that’s not that is taking it too far. This is not a case of well, we’re both a little bit wrong. Let’s both apologize and try to move on. Yeah. Yeah, it it is both. You know, you don’t need to have feel like, oh, I feel perfect about how I handled that night in order to say like this is the serious issue. And I’ll just kind of wrap this up by saying if the idea of talking to anybody who is in your life right now about this doesn’t feel like something that you’re up for yet, I would encourage you to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. That’s just one eight hundred seven nine nine safe at seven two three three again. I think right now you’re kind of in that stage of he’s never done anything like this. I feel ashamed of how I acted that night. Normally he’s so loving and empathetic that there may be a part of you right now that feels a little bit like, oh, my God, a domestic violence hotline. Like, that’s too much. That’s for other people. That’s not for me. This was just a really weird night. It was a really bad night. I’m kind of embarrassed just even having asked that question. I don’t want to do that. Yeah. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, letter writer, but I think that might be a potential response. You know, calling this hotline does not commit you to doing anything. I am not saying that you have to leave your husband right now. You don’t have to say that he is a monster. But you can call this an act of abuse. Yeah, you can call it a moment of silence. It was. And you deserve help and you deserve support and your husband needs accountability beyond just, hey, I promise you won’t happen again because. You just learn something new about your husband, you did not know that he would do this to you during a fight, so if he just says, oh, I got this, you cannot simply take his word on that subject anymore because he has established that you don’t know him on that front as well as you thought you did.
S3: I totally agree with you. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a really great resource. I’ve referred people I’ve worked with to it before. And like you said, the only kind of people who would look at that and be like, am I that person? Right. Like, is this is this OK for me to call? Even though I’m not this image in my mind I have of someone who’s being abused by their partner because there is no one image of that and looks completely different depending on your situation. But I really agree with you that it does not mean that you have to take a next step. It’s a way to get more information, get advice. There might be resources that would be helpful to you that don’t involve like I have to leave my husband now and get to a shelter. There are ways, you know, there are tons of different steps before that. And you can choose or not choose to do what feels right to you. But I really think it would be great if if you just don’t have someone personally in your life that you feel you can talk to about it.
S1: Yeah, and I’ll just throw this out there because I feel like I went I wanted to make sure that the letter writer did not feel like we were pressuring her into only one option. I do also just want to say you can absolutely walk over this. You can absolutely say, you know what? I would like to be in a relationship where I never worry that my partner is going to bite me. And if I want to say, yeah, I was married for a year, it was really great. And then one night we had a fight and he bit me until I bled. Boy, that’s reasonable,
S3: that’s understandable, yeah, this can be your bottom line if you if you need someone to if you need to hear that in some way, take it as as that. Yeah. This can this can absolutely be that bottom line. You don’t have to accept this in any capacity. It’s not OK. What happened. And I’m really genuinely sorry that. Yeah. That happened to you.
S1: It’s terrible behavior afterwards does not give me a lot of hope that he’s going to have a better handle on dealing with his own anger the next time you do fight.
S3: No, unfortunately not. Yeah, it’s it’s it’s really just terrible. It’s a terrible situation.
S1: Yeah. I’m really sorry. Please, please talk to somebody. You know, start with the hotline if it feels like too much to talk to a friend. But I think you should talk to a friend. I think you should talk to some of your friends. I think you should talk to your doctor. I think you should get a lot of help on this one. You deserve it. Would you take our next letter?
S3: OK, so the subject of this letter is worried about a neighbor kid, Dear Prudence, I live in a dense suburb right outside the big city. It’s just gotten warm enough out that I can have my windows open. And several times in the last week, I’ve heard one of my neighbors yelling at a kid until the kid starts crying. She yells in Spanish, which I don’t understand well, but my sense is it’s discipline for misbehavior. One time I maybe heard a slap, but I’m not sure. Regardless, they’re shouting is very loud and angry. I don’t know these neighbors and I’ve never actually seen them. Their guard has a high fence and is behind my neighbor’s house. So we don’t share a boundary. I don’t feel comfortable going over to talk to them in person about this, especially during a pandemic, especially because they recently had a big party. If we lived in an apartment building, I might leave a note on the door, but I don’t love that tactic and I would feel very weird walking around the block to do so. I guess I could try to shout over the fence at them, but what would I say in my crummy high school Spanish? My neighborhood isn’t super quiet and the yelling isn’t louder than other ambient sounds. It just makes me sad and a little worried for the kid. I guess I could also wait and see if it escalates, but I’m not sure what I should do in that case either. Hmm. I have a lot of thoughts about this, this letter, yeah, yeah, this is this is a really this is actually a pretty common thing that I’ve heard in my line of work. I am a licensed social worker, so I’m a mandated reporter, which means that if I have information about a child who might be abused legally, I have to report that to the state. So this is the type of thing that I deal with a lot where I’ll be working with people who are saying, you know, I think this might be going on, but I don’t know where I heard this or I saw it and just sort of not really knowing what to do. And that can be a really tricky situation. And I could talk for hours about the failings of the Child Protective Services situation in this country and what that’s done to, you know, a ton of different people. But I think it’s important to kind of take a step back and look at the facts of this letter and what you’ve you know, what this letter writer has told us that they know, which really is very little. There is not a lot in this letter that that is very concrete. These are not people that, you know in any way. It doesn’t even sound. And I don’t know, Danny, if you got the sense, too, but it doesn’t even sound like you would like recognize them if you saw them in the street because you don’t see them. Yeah. So it’s like, you know, if these are people who lived in your same house, like if you lived in a three family house situation or apartment building, you know, maybe things would be slightly different. But you literally don’t know these people. You don’t know what they’re saying. You don’t speak the same language. You know, you say like you might leave a note on the door, but you don’t love that tactic. I don’t love that tactic either, because.
S1: Right. Yeah, I think if you pause to play that tape forward, you think like, how would that result in, like, improved living conditions for the kid? Hard to imagine.
S3: Yeah, I, I struggle to think that that would accomplish anything other than just being weird. Yeah. It’s you know, there’s a lot of things that jump out. Like you think you maybe heard a slap but you’re not sure you don’t know these neighbors. I’ve never actually seen them. Yeah. It’s just there’s so much here that it sounds like you don’t know. And that’s not to say that what you think is happening couldn’t be happening. It’s totally possible that this person is screaming at their kid that possibly the language is abusive, that possibly the kid was slapped. All those things are totally within the realm of possibility. But you don’t know that. You have not witnessed that. You’ve not seen it. You have not heard anything concrete. And you also have literally no relationship to these people. So it’s it’s a it’s a tough call. Like, it’s just kind of like, what are you going on, really?
S1: Yeah. Yeah. To me, the thing here that feels the most sort of relevant is you say the yelling is not louder than other ambient sounds. You are not sure what she’s saying. You are not really clear on the language. And again, none of this is to say, like, I’m sure everything in that house is great. I just also want to flag like it is possible that something that you experience as loud and angry shouting in a language you’re not very familiar with doesn’t carry some of the same tone or resonance that it might if that had been something you heard in your own cultural context. Again, that’s not to say that, like, if you hear a kid crying, you have to say, like maybe it’s tears of joy because he’s going to Disneyland. Yeah, I just I want to flag that, given that there are so many other moments of. I’m not really sure. I’m not really sure in here. Yeah. You have I think letter writer kind of laid out your possible options. I think you are right in saying none of them seem like they’d be very useful or get much done. So the kind of question then is like, what do I do with this? Something between suspicion and knowledge that one of my neighbors this last week has yelled at her kid a lot for reasons that I don’t really understand. Yeah, I think that’s one of those things where, like part of the condition of living in a place that’s not like yourself in a cabin isolated from other human beings, is you come into contact with other like unnecessary human suffering. Sometimes it rises to the level that requires direct intervention. Occasionally it rises to the level of like considering calling in for like state intervention. Those moments are difficult to judge. Well, sometimes they make things worse. But yeah, I think what you have here is probably a neighbor. Whose mom shouts at them sometimes and not a lot that you can do.
S3: Yeah, you know, I keep I read this letter like five times, trying to trying to see if there was something I was missing or like, you know, is there something I’m just sort of overlooking? And I I really don’t think that there is know I agree with you, Danny. I think it’s hard when you live in, you know, a heavily populated you say a dense suburb. You’re going to hear people living right. And sometimes people living. Your parents yell at their kids. Parents lose their temper. Kids lose their temper. That’s that’s a normal thing that happens within families. And again, I do want to reiterate, it is entirely possible there are tons of kids who are verbally abused by their parents. That is completely a scenario that could exist. Yeah. And if you were hearing this in a language you understood and you knew, like, OK, this person is like screaming at their kid, yelling obscenities, calling them names. I’ve seen them hit their kid. That’s a whole different conversation than just sort of like literally not knowing what is being said. And yet, you know, you mentioned like, I guess I could shout over the fence at them. Please don’t do that. Please do not shout out of the fence. Yeah. Like that. That does not sound like it’s going to accomplish anything productive. And it would be odd in this situation.
S1: I think the last sort of thought I had on that was just I don’t feel comfortable going over to talk to them in person. Yeah, and like my thing with that is just like, all right, then you’re not prepared to do anything useful. Absolutely. And I realize that’s a little brisk, but it’s sort of like if you don’t feel comfortable knocking on one of your neighbor’s door and introducing yourself, then you’re not prepared to do something that might be useful for the kids should intervention be necessary later. So that’s your answer. Perhaps later you will decide that you are willing to feel a little uncomfortable in talking to your neighbors who recently had a party. I certainly don’t think that that is something that needs to make you so afraid that you couldn’t consider introducing yourself. And just like making yourself slightly more known to your neighbors, if you’re not prepared to do that, you’re not prepared to do that. And one of the consequences of that might be that you feel more uncomfortable during other hours of the day when you wonder what you’re possibly hearing. But you have to weigh those two discomforts against one another. And if you decide, nope, the one thing I can’t do is knock on somebody else’s door and introduce myself, then that is the that’s the path you’ve chosen.
S3: Yeah, I completely agree. I think a lot of the question, forgive me if I’m wrong, but like in listening to the show, I think a lot of the questions that you get are kind of boiled down to, I fear my neighbors and I don’t want to talk to them like that seems to be a very common theme when I listen to other questions that have come in in the past. And, you know, and again, I know that this is kind of veering off topic. But, you know, I think it’s really important to remember that, like, you have like neighbors are. Part of your life, right? That’s not to say that you have to befriend everyone who lives in your neighborhood. You have to be like on super friendly terms with everyone, but. It doesn’t hurt to what you have a situation where you can wave and smile at someone and maybe know their name and maybe be able to have a little bit of understanding about their life, you know, that that’s a good thing. Neighbors look out for each other. You’re not always going to have good neighbors, but they’re there and they are part of your community.
S1: Yeah. And, you know, yeah, I think that’s kind of it. Like I think especially that sort of sense of like it’s Spanish. I’m not sure. I think I’d feel yelled at in this context, but I don’t want to say hi to them. The letter writer did not share their own racial or cultural background, but this is not an uncommon type of problem that usually comes in from white letter writers with this combination of I don’t like my neighbors, I don’t approve of the way that they socialize or talk to their kids. But also the idea of simply saying hello makes me feel terrified. And I don’t want to overload this individual letter writer, but I think that’s often the set of dynamics that lead to white people calling the police on their neighbors of color for incidents that don’t necessarily rise to the level of police intervention, because it’s just that combination of like this is bad. And I’m speculating that it’s probably worse. And also, I’m sure if I spoke to somebody who recently threw a party, you know, it would just be too much for my sensibilities to possibly bear. And so I guess my options are cower in my bedroom or call the cops. And again, I’m trying to now at this point speak to a slightly larger problem that is not sure where this current letter writer is at. And so I don’t want to put that all on them, but I do want to flag that, you know.
S3: Yeah. One hundred percent. And, you know, like like I said, please don’t yell at these people. I’m begging you, do not do that. That is a bad idea and it is not going to end well if I had to put money on it.
S1: All right. We’re going to be closing with to sort of just slightly easier left its questions about friend breakup’s. Yeah. Which are never fun, but they’re certainly less intense than the one that we just went through.
S3: So, yeah, I feel like we just pushed like a boulder off of ourselves or something.
S1: Yeah. Yeah. Would you read our next letter?
S3: Absolutely. The subject of this letter is when is it over? Dear Prudence, my closest local friend and I had a very sudden falling out or anyway it was sudden for me. We met for a play date with our kids at the park and she spent the entire time grilling me about my politics and religious loyalties. She’s the wife of my former pastor under the guise of concern. I was annoyed, but letting it slide as we made our way to our cars with three squirmy kids between us, she brought up a conflict I thought was resolved months ago. The original conflict was not a major threat to our relationship in my mind, and there was wrong on either side. But we had both apologized and I thought it had been settled instead of the park. She offered me a script of what I should have said back then that put all the blame on me and did not reflect my actual feelings. After the lectures, the quote, script for how to manage her feelings, I had really had enough. I said goodbye and left. She texted me, expressing that she understands now that we have, quote, different communication styles and hopes that we can get past this. I responded that I needed time. Since then, I have been reflecting on different instance where I felt she tried to control me or others, offered forceful, unwelcome advice and centered her own feelings. I’m feeling very torn about what I want to resume a friendship with her, if at all I care about her. It’s hard for me to imagine us not speaking, and she is one of my children’s godmother. But I think I need to put down some hard boundaries and I’m not sure it’s worth it. How will I know if this friendship is worth continuing and when?
S1: Fight with your friends, fight with your friends. It’s such an important skill to cultivate.
S3: Oh my God, I was thinking the same thing. Yeah, and there’s a conflict avoidant person myself, to be really honest. Conflict is very difficult for me. I think it’s difficult for most people, to be honest. It is not a thing that most people enjoy. It is uncomfortable. It is really, really, really hard and can be really hard.
S1: And yeah. And I think without trying to universalize it and without knowing everything about this letter writers background, part of what we’re talking about or thinking about today, I think our cultural context there is I think is specifically like. White middle class aversion to conflict that is also like added on top of every other things that can be hard about conflict worth, it’s sort of like don’t talk about money, don’t raise your voice, shoutings. The worst. If you’re close with someone that means you never fight, you can maybe be a little snappish with like a stranger. But the closer someone gets, the less OK it is to fight. And the best thing is we never fight. And that gets you to a place like, oh, I kind of hate my children’s godmother and we’ve never really talked about. Yeah, which is not to blame you. Letter writer. This genuinely sounds like a difficult person, but I think, you know, you say like I’m not sure if this is worth it and, you know. I think it is, even if it doesn’t mean that you two stay friends, you know, what you have here is my closest local friend is really driving me crazy. She’s making me angry. The last time we spoke, she, like, tried to lay down the law. I really didn’t like it. I didn’t want to lose my temper. So I said, give me some time. You know, the question is, what do I do now? Once you’ve had a little time to calm down, tell her that you’re angry. Tell her that you didn’t like it. If her reaction is terrible, you haven’t really lost much because you’re already kind of at the end of your rope. But there’s a chance that you bought yourself enough time by saying, let’s do this later, that you can have the conversation when you are no longer in the middle of that moment and say, like, this drives me wild. I do not want you to give me a scrips for how you think I should have handled our last fight. That’s not how I felt. You are sometimes too much of a busybody and you tell me what you think I should do. You grill me on subjects. I love you, but that drives me crazy.
S3: Yeah, all reasonable things to say.
S1: And I thought harsh. That’s not like you’re the worst. That’s not like, you know, I hate you and always have. It’s just like this thing is really bothering me and I want it to stop. And if her response to that is just like, nope, I’m doing great, fuck you. OK, you know, friend breakup, but if not, then you fight and then it’s worth it, you know, it’s worth fighting with your friends, it’s OK to fight with your friends. I think that’s the one thing I really want to say. Like, yeah, especially to like, you know, fellow white Midwesterners who might feel like you can never fight with your friends.
S3: Right. And. And I think that I think what’s so hard about that, too, is that, you know, by saying to ourselves that the mark of a good friendship with the mark of a good relationship is not fighting right. People pride themselves on like, oh, we never fight. We never have conflict. And not only does that really lead to, you know, your friendships, I think most of the time it leads to friendships not being as deep as they can be and not being as meaningful as they can be. Not to say this relationship is not meaningful, but also it leads to people talking shit behind their friends backs, which is like way worse. Right. Because then you’re like you’re you’re stewing and you’re just like going on and on and complaining about this person. And that anger is really not going anywhere constructive. It’s not mending things. It’s not making things better. It’s just sort of making you feel worse. And again, I realize this is not easy. It’s not easy to have conflict a lot of the time. I, I again, I struggle with that myself. But if this is your closest local friends, she’s the godmother of one of your children. Sounds like this is a really enduring friendship for you. And it’s important not only to you, but also to your family. It sounds like you guys are kind of, you know, enmeshed in each other’s families. And that’s not to say that if she really was a horrible person, you want to not be friends with her, that you couldn’t break away. You can. But it sounds like there is it is worth having the fight in a in a constructive, mature way, not screaming, not belittling each other. But it’s OK to say to her, you really hurt me. I did not like the way that you talk to me about this. I did not like when you did X, Y and Z in the future. I don’t want you to communicate with me like that. I need to set that boundary that I will not allow you to do that. Yeah.
S1: And you don’t have to say like, oh, we have different communication styles like. Right. I think that’s kind of a cover sometimes for like, oh, well, you know, if you’re this type of communicator and I’m that kind that we just need to find the common ground as long as it can be like I don’t care what communication style you have, I don’t want you to grill me about my religion. If you don’t think you can do that, then the next time you start, I’m going to tell you to stop. Absolutely. We will fight and I will try not to say, like, fuck off. We will be fighting that. That can be I think sometimes if you move from like I avoid conflict all the time to like, OK, I’m finally ready, then sometimes you say fuck off too readily, too easily and too often there’s
S3: a time and a place to tell someone to fuck off like I am. I am not going to pretend otherwise. There are there are situations where fuck off is like a complete sense and makes sense. But here I don’t I don’t see that, you know, it sounds like your friend was being shitty. So, you know, it sounds like she was not being cool the way that she was talking to you. It was annoying. It was overbearing. It made you feel bad. And it’s OK to say that, you know, it’s OK if you really if you want to try to preserve this relationship, which it sounds like you kind of do to some degree, I think it’s worth having the fight and seeing where that lands you. And like you said, Danny, if she flies off the handle and it goes downhill, OK, you know, as long as you’re OK with the way that you’ve communicated, that might happen. And that’s not really on you. Sometimes people just can’t really handle being told that they’ve hurt somebody or that their behavior wasn’t appropriate. But it sounds to me like I want to believe from the contacts I have in this letter that you guys can push through this in some degree. That’s not to say there might not be a change in boundaries or a change in how you talk about things or what you talk about. You’re always able to sort of like edit the friendship and decide that you don’t want to be as close with someone or you don’t want to have certain conversations with somebody or you don’t want to like have a certain type of friendship that can happen. But it sounds to me like there is some stuff here that you can work on. It’s not unreasonable to think that things can get better. Yeah.
S1: And good luck. I think it’ll be worth it even if you don’t recover this particular friendship, if only because it gives you a little practice for in the future with a close friend. Trying to have like a medium sized fight earlier on when there’s a problem. This will give you some sense of like, OK, I actually did survive that. It was really uncomfortable and I didn’t like it, but it also did not, in fact, kill me. And that can be useful then in the future of just like, oh, I can actually just tell my friend that I’m frustrated. That’s remarkable. I didn’t really know that that was possible for me. It’s a superpower, something like that. Anyways, let’s move on to our last question, which is maybe maybe somebody who took the last advice too much to heart, because the subject is I don’t have any friends. Dear Prudence, it’s been a pretty rough year. I’ll probably be waiting a while until it’s safe to hang out with other people again. But I don’t know how to handle the loneliness I feel right now. I thought I had a bunch of friends, but I recently found out they’re all in a group chat without me. They’ve been having Zoome calls socially distance outside meet ups and game nights, all without me. I found this out because my roommate is in that group and accidentally let it slip. I feel like this hurts way more than it should because in lockdown I haven’t been able to see anyone except the people I live with. I guess they’ve all been hanging out without me for a while, but no one bothered to say anything and they’ve been trying pretty hard to keep me from it. Maybe I should have known by the way they shut me out of conversations or acted oddly when we all went on vacation together. It’s not like I haven’t talked to my roommate a bunch of times about my feelings and my frustration with the way he treats me. The betrayal stings for sure, especially since we live together. And now I know the nights that I’m feeling lonely. They’re all playing games together. But I guess my real problem is I don’t know how to make other friends right now. I don’t want to keep pushing on people who don’t value me. And I don’t want to keep trying to reach out to people who have been treating me cruelly while making me think it’s my fault. How do you meet new people in a time when we’re not supposed to interact with strangers? How do I join new clubs or pick up new hobbies when everything is on pause? I feel like I’m frozen in status until we can all be safe again. And at least for me, that’s going to be a long time from now.
S3: This made me sad.
S1: I wish so much I could ask follow up questions like how long you’ve known all these people and in what context you met them and if you and your roommate met because you were roommates or if you were friends first. And maybe it’s better. I don’t know that because I can just sort of focus on the question at hand, which is how do I find new friends?
S3: Yeah, absolutely. I think that this letter is kind of really asking that really they’re not really it sounds like they’re not really asking how to move forward with the roommate or with the friends. And you know, that that sucks. It sucks to live with someone who it sounds like you feel like doesn’t like you. And you say like you’ve talked to your roommate a bunch about your feelings and frustration with the way he treats me that. Yeah. Ouch. You know, like it just it sounds like a really hurtful situation. But I think that, you know, the question at hand is really more about moving forward, like, how can I ensure I have friends who like me, right? Like, how can I make friends and feel like I’ve made relationships with people who I feel comfortable with in a way that is safe for me in relation to covid. And that’s really hard. It’s not an easy way to me. There’s not an easy time to make friends right now with covid. And loneliness is is real. You know, it’s it’s a really it’s been a shitty year. Absolutely. Has been a shitty year. Yeah. Once I did have about you know, and this might be I don’t know, I don’t know how the letter will take this, but there’s a program that started at the beginning of covid called Pen Palooza, which is a pen pal program where you can sign up online and be connected with people all around the world and write to each other. And a couple people I know have taken part in it and found really fulfilling relationships with people who live, you know, maybe in the state next to them, maybe in Spain or in Tokyo or somewhere like really far away from them. But it’s it’s definitely a unique way to make friends because you’re not going to be, you know, engaging in a hobby together or like doing a zoom hangout or something like that. But if you’re interested in maybe testing the waters with meeting someone totally new and just sort of having a new hobby, which is writing letters and I think a really fun part, writing letters, just a suggestion that came to mind when I was reading this. I don’t know if that’s what this person is going to be like. Screw you for telling me that. But that’s one thought I had. That gives you kind of like a new hobby, the art of writing a letter and getting to know someone through letter writing and also maybe making a meaningful friendship.
S1: Yeah, I also like I don’t want to go too far in the direction of making assumptions about this letter writers particular situation. But one thing that I think is fairly well established at this point is that outdoor transmission rates are coronavirus is not like outbreaks are not being linked to going outdoors and like taking a hike with someone. Yes. So, again, I don’t want to make assumptions about this letter. Writers like unique conditions, but I do want to just say that about the like we’re not supposed to interact with strangers line, which struck me as slightly and not not quite the direction. So, again, without assuming too much about where or under what circumstances this letter writer is able to leave the house, I just want to flag that. Like, if you would like to potentially try to meet up with someone for a masked outdoor walk through a park where there are not a lot of crowds, that is something that you might consider doing. That is something that might be possible for you. Again, if you’re hearing this, you actually know there’s something particular about my situation that makes that impossible. You ignore that part. But I do want to flag that as a possibility. Absolutely.
S3: I think that’s a really important point. Yeah. Yeah. You can look
S1: for groups that want to meet and play games over Zoom. That’s another thing that you can do. It will feel a little awkward if you are trying to jump into something without knowing anyone else there. But I agree. I think it’s a better use of your time than trying to talk to your roommate again about something that you don’t like, but that he seems pretty committed to not changing. I think that’s a good decision. I think it’s a waste of your time and energy to try to convince all these people to include you again or to like you again. I don’t know what happened there, but I think focusing your energies elsewhere is is the right move.
S3: Absolutely. And, you know, and again, I know this is not an easy time to be finding new living situations for multiple reasons. But if that is available to you in any way, even if it’s not right away, but you can sort of plan out like maybe later this year, you know, you might want to think about moving somewhere. You might want to really get out of this. Yeah, I think you have to look at the long game here, which is that you’re. Living with someone who it sounds like doesn’t like
S1: unlike you,
S3: which is not a great situation. I’m not saying you have to be best friends with your roommate. Sometimes a roommate is just someone that you’re friendly with or you’re cordial to and you exist in the same house. But having a roommate who it sounds like actively dislikes you for whatever reason is really not a sustainable situation. And it’s going to probably get worse, is my opinion. So, again, I understand like financially and just with covid like it is a nightmare trying to move right now. I’m not trying to downplay that. But if you can maybe kind of put that away for a later date, if that’s possible for you in the next couple of months to think about finding somewhere else to go, I would really recommend that. Yeah, I would really recommend that.
S1: I think we have done it, we have crawled our way out of the morass and I think we’re going to make it through the end of the day.
S3: Yeah, debatable. But no, you’re right. We will. It’s fine. Yeah, everything’s fine, I think.
S1: Thank you so, so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your stopping by the show over the fence.
S3: Oh, absolutely. I thank you so much for having me. This was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do. So thank you.
S1: Well, I hope you get more cool things to do in the future, but I’m so glad that you were here today. Thank you again. Thanks, Danny. Thanks for listening to Dear Prudence, our producer is Phil Cercas. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton. I’m Danny Laborie and I will be back here next week. But the podcast will have a new name. And that name is Big Mood. Little Mood with Daniel Ivory. And perhaps there might end up being a new Dear Prudence podcast with the next Dear Prudence somewhere down the road. It could happen. This is Daniel and Laborie. I hope you’ll join me right here next week for Big Mood. Little Mood. Goodbye, Prudence. And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. And I can also understand why it can feel meaningful for people after years and years of change, for years and years of work, to think of themselves as fundamentally a different kind of person than the person that they were 10 years ago, 15 years ago. I also just want to say he is the same person he is all of the people that you have known him to be, that you have learned about him. So it’s not like this brand new person who inherited his name. It’s all him. And you see him at work, it sounds like, around adults. So while I can appreciate that he has been a good friend to you, the fact that you can’t imagine him yelling doesn’t mean he can’t yell. And it doesn’t mean he’s not capable of violence towards children. He has committed violence towards children. To listen to the rest of that conversation, Joint Slate plus now at Slate dot com forward slash Prudy part.