S1: Your produce, your prudence here, Prudence, yes, put into your proof. Here, prove these things that I should contact him again. Help! Help! Thank you. Thank you.
S2: Hello and welcome to another mini episode of Dear Prudence. I’m your host, Daniel and Claverie, and the show is for you are plus subscribers. Our guest this week is Jack Doyle, an LGBTQ health care advocate, historian and journalist originally hailing from New England.
S3: Now here’s our first letter. You get to read our next one.
S4: OK? Oh, you’re just giving me a quite heavy ones. All right. Here we go. The subject is spreading dad’s ashes. Dear Prudence, my dad died when I was eight. He had three adult children from a previous marriage. I have not seen or spoken to them since my mom kept his ashes all these years. She recently died and my stepdad and I decided that when the current health crisis has subsided appropriately, we would like to spread her ashes in her home state. My father was from the same state and I figured it would make sense to spread his ashes at the same time. My mom never totally got over his sudden death and she considered him her soulmate. Makes me happy to think that they’ll be together. My stepdad is a great guy and is fine with this scenario. My question is about my siblings. Do I have a moral obligation to seek their approval? Ask if they’d like to be there or keep some of the ashes. With a very uncommon surname. And it would be easy for me to find them. But it’s been over 30 years and they’ve never reached out to me. I had the same last name and a fairly uncommon first name. I don’t live far from where we lived when my dad died. I would be easy to find too. Part of me feels like if they haven’t reached out in time to inquire about his ashes, it’s a closed case. But part of me thinks I have an obligation to ask them. Honest, the thought of reaching out makes me nauseated. What obligation do I have? What’s your read on this?
S2: You know, this is also kind of like the last letter. I feel like. There’s not much in the way of an obligation. So it’s really a question of what are you hoping to get out of this and what would you like and what can you live with and what can you not? You know, I think I would try to to whatever extent you can release yourself of the burden of feeling like whatever choice you make is going to permanently affect your half siblings ability to process their father’s death. You know, they’ve chosen not to have a relationship with you or your mother. They’ve chosen not to get in touch about his remains for 30 years. That’s not an accident. You know, they may very well feel conflicted about that sometimes, but that’s a choice that you know, that they’ve made, you know. Yeah. That’s information that you have. I think the letter writer is treating it like they don’t have information, like these siblings are kind of a blank slate and they’re trying to guess what they might feel one way or the other. I actually think you have information that their preference is to not ask to not seek out information about their dad’s remains and to not want to be a part of any potential funeral or memorial service.
S4: Yes, absolutely. And I can really hear the anxiety in that last line of of the thought of reaching out makes me feel nauseated. Which suggests to me that, you know, this person is not perhaps so curious and not wanting to establish a relationship, which is totally fine, because, as you say, it’s it is pretty clear, you know, even not knowing the context of the previous marriage or what have you. It is pretty clear that they have made some choices. And, you know, I think it’s appropriate here, especially honoring your mom simultaneously to, you know, have that be a moment for you and your stepped out, if that’s what you prefer.
S2: Yeah. I think to part of the potential, like nauseated reaction was that since they don’t say much about what their relationship like with was with those adult children when they were a kid, before their father died. But certainly as soon as he died, those people withdrew from the letter writers life entirely.
S5: Yeah. Which is a choice for an eight year old kid. I think. Yeah. Yeah, that could be complicated.
S2: Emetic, even if even if they weren’t like super close beforehand, like an eight year old sees all these relatives suddenly vanish and think like, well, what’s wrong with me?
S4: Yeah. Yeah.
S2: So, yeah, I just I guess mostly my my. The thing I want to impart to the letter writer here is you have a lot of options. You are not going to harm them by either not reaching out or it’s not like incumbent upon you to try to mend fences with people who years ago decided to remove themselves from the lives of an eight year olds. Like, I just want you to feel like what you’re doing is a choice that you are allowed to make. They have not signaled any desire to be involved in this process. So if you decide to take them at their pretty clear word, which that word came to you through an absence. But that’s still a clear no. You’re not avoiding them or ignoring their wishes or doing something kind of like underhanded and sneakily.
S4: Yeah, absolutely. There are many other situations. I think if circumstances been a little different, where I’d say in most cases, I think you’d be obligated to tell them that. But I think here it is pretty clear what the relationship or lack of relationship is. And I think it’s okay that to have this, you know, be a moment for free. You know, your family who has been in your life.
S2: Yeah. My last alternate suggestion would be if it remains kind of eating away at you and you think you will feel more peaceful if you give them a heads up. I don’t think you should do more than that. I don’t think you should ask for their permission. But if your stepfather, for example, is willing to reach out, you could potentially ask him to just let them know, hey, we’re gonna be doing a ceremony with, you know, dad’s name and mom’s name is Ashes at Sea, parklike per their requests next week if you’re able to attend, please. And again, all of this right. Is very theoretical because depending on where you live, you may not be able to gather in any kind of a state park or, you know, they don’t say it’s exactly a state park, but depending on where this is, you may not be able to congregate for a while. So some of this might be similar. You can kind of put on the backburner, which would maybe be helpful as you sort of sort through what you want here. But, yeah, I would say if you do reach out, consider asking your stepfather to do it on your behalf. Certainly don’t do more than say, here’s what we’re going to do. Let us know if you’d like to join.
S5: You don’t need their permission. Totally. Totally. And I’m sorry about the loss of your mom. And I hope you’re doing as well as can be expected. Yeah.
S2: I hope you find it like a meaningful and a lovely ceremony. Oh, boy.
S5: OK, so I’m actually at least I get to read a tough one. OK, go for it. Which is like I have a feeling this foss’s about this one.
S2: So I feel like this these people are like setting up a situation where that last letter is in the future of these kids.
S4: I know it’s a very šemeta like well-chosen her, but. Oh, my God.
S2: So the subject is bitter. Goodbye, dear Prudence. I dated Olivia for three years. It didn’t work out, but I didn’t want to pull a disappearing act on her kids. I had a revolving cast of, quote, uncles as a kid myself. It wasn’t fun. This worked well for a few months. I even had the kids over last Thanksgiving since Olivia was working. Then she met a new guy. He didn’t want me around. So Olivia went. No contact. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. It was a gut punch because I really cared about those kids. Recently, Olivia reached out and begged me for help. This new guy had wrecked her car and stolen from her. I told her I would give her the money, but only if I got to see the kids one last time. Olivia was pretty desperate, so she agreed. I went over with a few presence and I talked to the kids. They asked me where I had been and didn’t I want to see them anymore. I told them I loved them, but that their mom didn’t want me around anymore. I just wanted to say goodbye. I left and spent the money. I told Olivia never to contact me again. She left me a bitter voicemail about me trying to make her the, quote, bad guy. I just wanted to be honest with the kids. Was I out of line?
S5: Absolutely. Why don’t you be honest with yourself first? Perhaps. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, that was brutal. Yeah. This. I have some really strong initial reactions when I when I read this letter. There’s a lot going on here, but it’s. Yeah, I. This certainly is not just wanting about wanting to say goodbye to the kids. And it’s about Benge and revenge I think. And regardless of intentions, the kids have been collateral damage in this. It’s not clear how old they are. But clearly, they’re young enough to really not be clear about what the situation is. And, you know, I mean, I think it’s pretty clear in gentle terms that you mishandled the situation and. And I don’t really know what this. What do you think this person should do next? Because, I mean, I’m really clear that, you know, I, I, I think the like, you know, basically making a condition of giving money into your ex, like, by seeing their kids and upsetting their kids as it’s pretty shitty. I don’t I don’t really know what this person does next.
S2: I mean, in terms of what’s left to do, I think there’s not much left to do. Like the letter writer has always already told Olivia, don’t contact me again. Aside from that one voicemail of her own anger, it doesn’t sound like Olivia is trying to get back in touch. I think that’s the best imaginable future is one where the two of you never contact each other again. I don’t think there’s any way you can go back and have another goodbye with the kids that would make things better. So I think in terms of like what you can do as a person is just consider Olivia a person who lives on the moon and who you can never contact again and do the same for the kids and trust and hope that whatever, like healing or work that they can do on their own will be done without you. But yeah, I think I understand both that the way that Olivia. Told you, great, stay in the kids lives until she met a new boyfriend. Now, don’t. That was painful. That was unfair. That was hurtful. That was bewildering to her kids. It was a bad move.
S4: Yeah, I’m with you on that. Yeah, I agree.
S2: Part of the trouble with any kind of custody disagreements, even if it’s with somebody who doesn’t have any legal claims to the kids, is another adult’s bad behavior. Doesn’t mean you get to lash out because it’s not the kid’s fault and they don’t understand or it doesn’t help them to hear, like, well, she started it. Like, all they know is that they’re getting hurt additionally.
S4: Yeah, exactly.
S2: It’s not like these were adult mutual friends that you could contact and say, hey, Olivia actually told me never to talk to you again. I’d like to talk to you again, since you’re all adults who can make decisions about your own socialize if you’d ever like to get together. Despite our breakup, I’d love to see you. That would be one thing. But these are children who have to live with Olivia, and Olivia is their mom. And so using the fact that she was financially desperate after being robbed by the guy she was dating, which like, yeah, if you wanted to live you to get punished, you sure got your wish. So using that as an opportunity to go over to the kids and say, by the way, your mom kept me away from you and now you’ll never see me again, go fight with your mom. The one consistent adult in your life. Do you see how that didn’t help the kids in any way?
S4: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, I do have compassion for somebody who’s clearly saying that they had a revolving cast of uncles as a kid. It isn’t fun. You know, I. I understand that the impulse or I believe that you believe you you might have been having a good goodbye and having a connection with those kids. But but I think is right. I think they are not available for you to contact anymore. And you have to sit with the fact that you caused them harm. And, you know, it might come as time when, you know, these kids grew up and got in touch and everything, but that’s their choice. And, yeah, you know, would not seek them out in the next few years kind of thing unless they get in touch with you.
S2: Yeah. Yeah. And whether or not it was your intention at the time, what happened was when you were with the kids, you saw an opportunity to further punish Olivia and you took it and you took it at the expense of those kids well-being. Yeah. That doesn’t wipe out every good thing that you did when you were in those kids lives. It doesn’t make you an irredeemable monster, but it was a bad thing to do and it hurt the kids. And it probably hurt them more than if you had simply disappeared without that last bewildering, brutal moment. So, you know, let this one sit with you. Consider spending a little time in therapy, trying to work out with your own resentment towards the parade of uncles you had to endure as a child, as well as how you can handle rejection, unfair behavior from adults as an adult without trying to use kids as leverage, because that will be good to stop doing going forward. All right. We get to move on to a nice short one. The subject is married with arthritis and cheating. Dear Prudence. I’ve been married for a very long time to a man with severe arthritis who has had a few back surgeries. Sex has been non-existence. I get quote for better or for worse, but recently had a two night stand with an old friend. I discovered I’m still a very sexual creature. My question is, how long do I continue as a sexless saint?
S4: That is a phrase.
S2: That’s certainly a phrase. And I think my objection here is not the fact that this is a person with sexual desires and sexual interests who wants to be able to talk about them. That’s great. Of course, that’s fine. What I resent is even kind of jokingly this formulation of like because I wasn’t apparently talking about my sexual desires to my partner previously. I’ve been a saint. Saints don’t have sex. Saints suffer and resent other people in silence. Saints are martyrs. And that, I think, is just like a really unhealthy way of thinking about relationships. And frankly, like puts a lot of undue pressure on your disabled partner for it, like being this cross you have to bear instead of the person that you’re married to, who you should be having conversations with about your desires, even if they’re difficult, painful conversations. So, yeah, yeah, I really object to that language. I think there’s some Abel ism at play here. I don’t see that because I think you, letter writer, are an evil monster, but because I think it will do you good to look at that within yourself.
S5: Yeah. And and perhaps you don’t go into a lot of detail about how your partner has felt about the fact that sex has been non existent. But yeah, I think this sort of moral language doesn’t do your partner any favors and doesn’t really speak to his experience, which sounds like a pattern, perhaps because it doesn’t sound like you guys have been communicating about this in terms of how this person move forward. I think the first thing is to have a conversation with your partner that you should have probably had a while ago about just checking in about how you guys are feeling sexually and addressing the fact that you haven’t been having sex and identifying for yourself how important sex is for you in a relationship. And because that’s going to be the thing that determines whether or not this relationship continues. And do you think they they have to have this conversation with prefacing with like and I cheated on you.
S2: Yeah. I mean, I think it would be good. I think it’s important information. I think that I also think it’s possible to have honest conversations with partners about cheating that don’t necessarily result in everyone falling to the ground stricken and like never emotionally recovering ever. I realize that. I don’t mean to sound flippant in that, I just think that these are conversations that people in long term relationships should be prepared to have is like something that can be painful and difficult and can lead to like fights and possible conflict and possible break ups. But not like, oh, my God, how could this have happened? Like, it happens a lot. People do it a lot. We should be able to find language to talk about it. So, yeah, I would encourage this letter writer to include that they don’t have to if the conversation instead is just a really, really want to have sex. What do you feel about sex? Do you think about it ever? Do you wish there was some way that the two of us could share sexual intimacy? Do you want to talk about ways that we could potentially include sexual intimacy with other peoples? Does that idea cause you pain? Tell me what you think about it. If the two of us want different things, let’s disagree openly rather than like. I’ll silently assume that you don’t want something and then go on living my life without ever discussing it with you. Like that, for better or for worse thing, isn’t just like never talk to your partner about sex. If they’re in physical pain, it means like. Being with your partner or being present. And one thing you haven’t done with your partner in this is be present because your partner clearly doesn’t know what’s going on with you and you’re not asking questions. I don’t say that to be like this is all your fault. Your partner is the real saint. You’re the monster. You’ve made some choices that I think you can make better choices around. But, yeah, let go of the idea that sex looseness and sainthood are connected. Let go of the idea that sainthood is a good thing and start thinking about your partnership as one where you and your partner are both equals with an equal stake in your future intimacy. And who are allowed to discuss options and possibilities, even if that means every conversation isn’t smooth and easy. That’s OK. You two are married for a very long time. You should be past the lake, you know, fresh off a string of like, oh, we never fight, you know. Yeah. Sorry, lifetime. For better or for worse, you should have some really great fights under your belt.
S1: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think this is worth having a hard conversation. And even if I know or several.
S6: That’s Armony episode of Dear Prudence for this week. Our producers Phil 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 four zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three, two, seven. 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.