The “Why Am I So Mean?” Edition

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you.

S2: Your freedom, your prudent given here, prudence, dear, dear prudence, here pretty. Do you think that I should contact him again? No help, I think. Thank you.

S1: Hello and welcome back to The Dear Prudence Show once again, and as always, I’m your host, Dear Prudence, also known as Daniel M. Lavery. And with me in the studio this week is Michelle Deane, a writer based in Los Angeles. She’s the author of Sharp The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion and the cocreator of Who Loves Emmy and Golden Globe winning the act. Michelle, welcome to the show. Thank you for having me. Danny, thank you so, so much for coming on. I’ve really been looking forward to this and I’m really glad that I was able to at the last minute bring in a letter. Yeah. That has to do with a woman who’s like help. I am much to show. Please let me against a wetstone weight that sharpens things. I take it back.

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S3: Yeah, it’s please blunt me.

S1: Please let me will will blunt her against a blunt stone which is presumably very much like a wedding stone.

S4: Yes. I’m just going to agree that that exists because it’s your podcast.

S1: I imagine you would just tilt the knife at a slightly different angle and the same thing could sharpen or blunted. Yes, it stands to reason. I don’t know. I’m not a scrimshaw expert. Would you read our first letter, please, Michelle?

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S5: Sure. The subject is I want a polyamorous relationship with my boyfriend and my best friend, Dear Prudence. I have been with my boyfriend Mori for almost five years. He’s a wonderful guy, loving, appreciative, smart. He has plans for us to marry and have kids. He will leave for France for his PhD in two weeks. I will miss him dearly, but we’ve done long distance successfully before. My best friend Mario is very different from my boyfriend, more common reserved, and he’s been a mountain of support in difficult times. He’s very appreciative of me and has told me many times that I’m beautiful just the way I am when I was struggling. He likes my emotional involved ness and asks me if I will come back to his city in Germany. I am not sure if he loves me in a romantic way. He has never had a girlfriend. I have often wondered if he is asexual. We were so close that many in our class thought we were a couple. Once on a hiking trip to the Alps six years ago, I thought that we would come back as a couple, but somehow we always became very quiet when there was time to discuss it openly. I’m terrified to destroy our shared group of friends, but I want to be with him just as I want to be with my boyfriend. I asked my boyfriend a year ago if he would grant me the freedom to try to pursue a romantic relationship with both of them. He was very sad and does not want it. I want to go back to Mario for at least the three or four years that my boyfriend will be gone. I’ve been quite depressed in my new city and without my new boyfriend there, I will probably finally lose it. I would love to live with Mario. I would love even more to get to have a romantic relationship with him. I love both of them. We just spent two weeks together on vacation. They’ve always liked each other very much. Can I ask my boyfriend another time if he said no? I feel like I would not move in with Mario since I would think about infidelity all the time. Do you know how to beat these lingering thoughts? Should I speak about this with Mario anyways? I have a great urge to do it and a small part of me even hopes that he would just say no and I would finally have more reason to forget this. I just can’t lose him as a friend.

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S3: So lots going on here, obviously, I guess I’m curious about the relatively passive role Mario plays in this letter.

S1: Yes, yes. That that also leapt out to me. I mostly just really loved the subject line, which is just like, here’s what I want. Yes. I think in this particular situation, one thing that seems clear is you are not going to get that now, which doesn’t mean you have to just sit on your hands and do nothing. But whatever version of the world where your boyfriend says, yeah, I’d be really comfortable if you also dated Mario. You know, I did like him a couple of times. We all hung out, so I’m suddenly cool with it. I just don’t see that happening here. You’re your boyfriend seems pretty clear on the fact that he does not want you to also date your best friend and date him at the same time.

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S3: Yes, yeah. He seems crystal clear on that point. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you can reason somebody else into doing that you could sit down and have a chart and then you’d come to an agreement. Not likely. Yeah.

S1: I was also struck by the ways in which Mario both loomed large in this letter and also seemed sort of in some way absent.

S3: Well, it seems he hasn’t been consulted. Yeah. And that’s what concerns me.

S1: Yeah. He says that he thinks you’re great. He’s been there for you. He wants to see you. But I’m not seeing a lot here. That suggests to me that he’s wild to be in a romantic relationship and is just barely holding himself back. I think especially the fact that, like six years ago you were on a hiking trip. You had a lot of opportunities to talk about the possibility of romance between the two of you. But for whatever reason, both of you just felt unable to do so and. Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, what would you want to advise this person? Do you think it’s best to try to stick out the relationship that she’s currently in? Do you think it’s best to just speak more honestly to both of them and then probably break up with her boyfriend and try to find two other guys who want to date her at the same time? Like, what’s the what’s a good outcome?

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S3: I think she needs to speak to both of them. And I think that it’s not even that she needs to, like, raise, because, again, the thing that I find curious that a little bit is it’s not clear to me that Mario would be cool with the situation either, even if even even on the contingency, which, as you point out, is unlikely that he does want to engage in a romantic relationship with her and does want her to move in. And lots of I’m presuming her but and does want this person to move in with that. Like it feels like these things ought to be actually discussed in the open as opposed to simply sort of like sublimated into desires that are that are floating around and both of these relationships. Because even if you’re not in a relationship with somebody meaning dating, then you have like a relationship to them that the stuff would just be floating around unarticulated. And it’s obvious that you feel strongly enough about them, about these issues that you just like you really need to feel like you need to speak to them. Right. So why not just do that and see what happens? I mean, it’s possible that, yes, the solution is going out and finding out to other people. It’s possible that over the course of speaking to both of these people honestly about this, the stuff you would come out feeling like you had some resolution about how to move forward with both them, either together or separately.

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S1: Yeah, yeah. I think the concern about being afraid to destroy your shared group of friends, I get that. But I also just assuming that you were honest and straightforward and direct with both your boyfriend and your friend, even if your boyfriend was very hurt and angry, I’d be a little bit surprised if all of your friends said that’s it. None of us can be friends anymore because you and I broke up. Yeah. So I hope you can put that to the side as well. As you know, if you say your goal is to never lose your friendship with Mario, then I guess never talk to him about your romantic feelings for him. But I can’t promise you that that would then mean you would just be able to stop thinking about it and it would go away either. I think you’ve kind of reached a point where asking your boyfriend and then doing your best to tamp everything down internally is no longer working. And at that point, you know, the simplest answer, I think, is just. Your boyfriend is about to leave the country for four years, possibly longer. He wants to, it sounds like, become married, be monogamous forever and have children. You don’t say whether you want to have children. Right. I’m curious about whether or not you want the same thing. But it it really sounds like, again, not that you could just cut them both out of your life and find two random guys on the street. And that would feel as emotionally fulfilling and intimate and special and historical as the relationships you’ve had with these two guys. But it does seem like there’s something in you that feels strongly about the possibility, at least of multiple romantic relationships. And I think that that is possible. I just think the way to go about doing that is usually not by. Getting a monogamous boyfriend and then trying to convince him when he said that he should do it, yeah. So I think the thing you say to your boyfriend is something like, I don’t know that I see myself dating you monogamously and long distance for four more years. Are there any compromises that you and I can talk about, or does it just feel like we either date monogamously across the continent for four years or we break up and then you figure out if you want to do that or not? And then if you’re going to talk to Mario, I think you should be straightforward with more and tell him that you’re going to talk to Mario. I don’t think you should keep that from him. I don’t think that you should go into it with either. The goal of I would not share with Mario that you sometimes have speculated that he might be asexual. I think any kind of speculation about why he hasn’t had a girlfriend would would not be welcome and not helpful. I agree that it’s an interesting note that he has not seriously dated in the time that you’ve known him or if he has dated anyone, he hasn’t shared that with you. But again, that’s his if he wants to share details about that, he can. And if he doesn’t, you shouldn’t pry.

S6: Yeah, you need to speak honestly about your feelings, not about speculations you have about where his feelings might be.

S1: Yeah. And then just beyond that, you know, you say you want to go back to Mario, at least for the three or four years that your boyfriend will be gone. I really just don’t think this is like an itch that you can kind of get out of your system in three or four years. And then if for some reason your boyfriend changed his mind and said, OK, go for it, that if he came back in four years and said, time to break up with Mario, it’s just you and me again. Now, I don’t think you’d love Mario less. I don’t think you’d feel less close to him. I think that’s kind of a an odd way of trying to to justify it to yourself when I don’t think that you have to like what you’re experiencing is love for two different people. It’s complicated and messy and it doesn’t make your boyfriend feel good and it doesn’t always make you feel good. But don’t try to downplay it in the hopes that you can get it more easily if you say, I promise, it’s just for three or four years. Yeah. So, yeah, the fact that you’ve been depressed in your new city and your boyfriend is going to be leaving, that’s important. Do you want to move? Do you want to go to a different city? Do you want to live closer to your other friends? You know, these are all questions that you can ask yourself. And if it you know, if the course of these conversations reveal that you and Maria are not compatible, as sad as breakups are, it’s better than being miserable and alone in a city and not pursuing other forms of connection with people because your boyfriend doesn’t want you to. I’m in total agreement. Yeah, I feel a little bad because I feel like what I’m telling this person is essentially break up with your boyfriend, which you kind of don’t want to do, and have the conversation with your friend Mario, where I think he will probably say, I do adore you. I love being friends, I love being close, but I don’t want a romantic relationship. And that will be hard. But it’s not like what you’re going through now is easy, right?

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S6: Well, I don’t know if you’re telling the person to do what they don’t want. I mean, they state that they don’t want to break up with your boyfriend. But I’m told very little about the boyfriend here. Right. About Morri compared to Mario, which suggests to me that actually your interest is actually moving off Mario, which is possibly why Mario is not wild about this idea all together. Yeah. And that he probably perceives that to you.

S1: But what are your other options? You know, you’re not going to follow him to France. It sounds like you will be pretty miserable if you are just dating someone long distance for four years. I think that’s reasonable. I don’t I don’t think you did anything wrong by being in love with two people. Now, it may not have been something that always felt good for Mori, and it may have been painful when you asked him those questions. And there may be ways that you ask those questions that were not as thoughtful as they could have been, but. You love two people, it happens sometimes people do that, and I want you to find other ways to pursue this that don’t necessarily involve just trying to convince these two guys, neither of whom seem like they want what you want to be with you. And good luck right back. I’d love to hear how any of these conversations go. All right, this next one, I’m really excited just because it’s it’s such a great big question now. Totally. So the subject is a mean girl, Dear Prudence. I’m a mean person and I have been for as long as I can remember. It started out with me playfully teasing my friends. But now I’ve turned into a monster. I know the solution is just to quote, be nicer, but I’ve tried that and I can’t stop the perfectly nice to strangers. But when it comes to people I know, I’m constantly making fun of the things they wear or like or how they act. I now have no friends, rightfully so. I try to be nice, but mean words just slip out of my mouth. Sometimes I have a therapist, but she’s not very helpful about this. And unfortunately, she’s the only one who accepts my insurance. How do I stop being such a bitch?

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S6: Well, like you said, this is like a big, huge issue in part because the letter is in some ways general enough that it feels like there’s a lot to say. But also it’s hard to it’s hard to weigh in on specifics. Right. Because one thing that I feel like I I’ve learned as an adult is that, I mean, as a little bit in the eye of the beholder and it certainly contextual and especially I’m only presuming that this person is a woman because she calls herself a bitch and also set the subject line is a mean girl. Yeah, I think you’re safe, but women in particular tend to be perceived as mean even when they don’t necessarily see it that way. They just see themselves as as telling the truth about something and then people perceive it as destructive. And I know that Danny picked this example, in fact, because my book is a little bit about this, although in the slightly esoteric subject matter of 20th century intellectuals and critics who also happen to be women. But that’s just the case. The one thing that stands out to me about this note suggesting that the person is perhaps not solely the victim of the stereotyping of women as particularly women that we encounter everywhere in public life. But is that she says that she makes fun of the things they wear. Mm hmm. Which to me and it’s true that, like, I sort of I would air on the side of not making fun of the things that people wear just as a general rule in life.

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S4: I realized that we don’t do that as a culture, that there’s like this big culture of like making fun of people’s fashion choices. But to me, it feels like high school, even when we’re doing it to actresses on the red carpet. To be honest, it just feels like high school.

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S1: I did get the read also that this letter writer may be young. Yes, probably not high school if they’re on their own insurance. But I thought maybe perhaps a recent.

S4: Twenty something and recently 20s, early 20s, mid 20s, maybe, yeah, yeah, it’s almost inconceivable to me that my my friends and I’m like in my early 40s at this point that my friends would that there would be a discussion where anybody would legitimately make fun of something someone else was wearing what what might happen. And I guess I have kind of a mean group of friends. I could see my friends making fun of like a slogan or something that somebody was wearing if they thought it was funny or out of character for that person. Yeah, but not like just the outfit at any rate.

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S1: Yeah, I think sorry. I don’t I don’t mean to like, make a ruling about whether or not it’s ever appropriate or fine. OK. Or fun to, to tease your friends. I do think I want to help this person try to figure out ways to. Reorient her relationship to blurting things out and towards relating to other people, and yes, I don’t want to say like I’m sure you’re actually just fine, just look for meaner friends. But I think one of the things that’s a little bit difficult is what friendships is. It’s not always that there is one universal set of rules. And that’s not to say like if you find people who like getting made fun of, just make fun of them. Yeah, but but I mean, there are sometimes friendships or moments or groups where. And again, of course, this can also get really out of hand, but where some sense of organized back and forth, either like playful bragging or playfully ragging on one another, is something that people enter into in a shared sense of fun and wordplay and being ingenious and inventive. And so not to say like you should go try to find those people and do it right now, because it sounds like what you really need is a bit of a break and to reassess the way that you try to connect with people. But I do I do want to leave open the possibility that not everyone who has moments where they rag on their friends are doing so out of cruelty or that it’s always wrong. Again, context is important. If somebody tells you that it hurts them or if you notice they’re not responding in kind or if it’s getting really one sided, even if somebody doesn’t say so, that’s that’s unkind. But I also don’t want this person to feel like the only way that you can make friends is through just relentless shared affirmations, getting past back and forth.

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S4: Yeah, I mean, when I think about what friends I have, where the teasing is like, I have one particularly close group of friends from my undergraduate days who I’m still very close to you and I love them. It is true that when we gather at this point, we have known each other. Got almost 20 years and approaching at this point, knowing each other longer than any of us were alive before we knew each other. And so the relationship has grown a little bit sibling like or what? I, I don’t have any siblings. So what I kind of imagine a sibling like a healthy sibling relationship could look like in that we know each other’s buttons and we know each other’s quirks. So say if we were making fun of something they were doing or like the way, I don’t know, the way somebody was cutting their meat, because once the subject of fun, like, you know, it comes from a deep, deep history of like support and also like knowing that individual person’s quirks are knowing that they were vegetarian for like six years in the 90s or something like that, you know. And so when the joke is made at their expense, it’s also made out of like a deep affirmation. So the thing is to like it’s not even just a matter of like finding the people who are OK with being made fun of in my experience, because, like, I certainly wouldn’t ever make fun of somebody whose acquaintance, like, I had recently made about the way that they cut their meat or something at the dinner table, unless unless I don’t know, like we had it, like you said, a share, a shared context that that would make that OK. So it’s also like a matter of a certain amount of intimacy. Which goes back to your point about the letter writing. Right. Or possibly being quite young, because it just seems to me the teasing comes from older friendships in my in my experience.

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S1: Yeah, and and that’s a helpful note, I think, because part of what we’re talking about is relationships, where there’s a long history, a shared sense of I know if I tell someone that something bothers me, that they will stop and not insist, no, this is funny. This is just how we talk. I’m going to keep doing it. And so that’s all sort of like questions for maybe further down the road when the letter writer has been able to build and maintain friendships with people for more than just six months. Yeah. So getting back into the sort of more specific problem at hand, which is I don’t have any friends left. I have a therapist who’s not helping me. I don’t have the option to find a different therapist right now. What are my best options? And, you know, I wish I knew a little bit more about what you meant by not very helpful. My instinct. There is some version of she doesn’t tend to give you a lot of advice or you don’t necessarily share all of these details with her. So she doesn’t know the extent of how bad it is or she doesn’t push back in ways that you are maybe sort of internally hoping that she will. So given that I don’t know more about that, I think the best thing that you can do is say to your therapist, this is my biggest problem right now. The fact that I’ve driven my friends away and that I hear myself saying things that are mean and cruel. And I wish I hadn’t said them, but I don’t yet know how to stop myself earlier is my biggest problem. I need a lot of help from you. Whatever we’re doing right now has not proven helpful. I want to focus on this. I want to put this front and center of our sessions and maybe do some research on your own, do some reading, seek out stories of other people who have had to fundamentally rearrange the way they relate to others. Figure out what you can bring to the therapy sessions so that you are really stressing this is the thing that I want to focus on every time that we talk so that you at least feel somewhat sorry to use the word empowered but empowered to to take responsibility for the therapy sessions and not just think of it as something that she produces new things in you. And if she doesn’t do that, therapy is not working. I realize that maybe some assumptions that I bring to the table, but I think that might help.

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S6: Yeah.

S7: I also wonder just and honestly, it’s because this letter doesn’t contain enough information to make this assessment. But when you say the therapist doesn’t help as well, I wonder if the therapist is also maybe challenging that. The problem here is your meanness. And I say this again, out of a desire to help you find a way forward, but it feels like there’s a possibility here of a bit of anxiety about your conduct, because you keep saying you say you have no control over over the meanness coming out, which I don’t know. I feel like I recognize from other people’s similar complaints, just sort of social anxiety. Right. And that’s either leading you to say things that are truly mean or it’s leading you to worry that people aren’t connecting with you because whatever you are saying might be mean. And so I’m wondering if that’s part of it. And and that might be something that you also want to just think about in terms of what you could bring to a therapy session. Because in any case, it’s my experience that people who have trouble saying the right thing in a social setting, whether it’s mean as they’re just like awkward things or or being overly intimate too quickly, which is also a path to these mean remarks pretty quickly. Right. That’s actually the result of social anxiety. It’s not the result of like a fundamentally mean nature. It seems to me if you were a fundamentally mean person, you wouldn’t have written this in the first place because you wouldn’t see anything wrong with what you’re saying. Yeah. And you’d feel it’s other people’s responsibility to protect their own feelings, but you don’t feel that way. So so this is just my suspicion, again, not having enough information.

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S1: Yeah. I think that’s all useful. I think this may prove cold comfort, but a lot of people in their early 20s struggle with figuring out, OK, the way that I sometimes think is natural to relate to people drives them away. I sometimes overcompensate for uncertainty or anxiety or what I consider to be an awkward pause by saying something that is cutting or that is overly familiar. And I want to do, you know, that’s that’s part of the work of growing up. So this does not mean that you will never have friends. You will never be able to figure out how to bridge the gap between I’m nice to strangers. And then once you’re my friend, I’m a jerk. Yeah, I think you can make progress here. And to that end, I think my last advice would just be, you know, if the solution is just be nicer, that’s the kind of thing that is so vague and huge. It’s it’s essentially useless like it with that phrase. Does it say just like be a different kind of person? And I think one thing that you can do is look at a very specific habit, which is I make fun of the things people wear or if I notice they have a certain kind of speech pattern or gestures that they do either. Mimic it or draw their attention to it, and I make fun of them for it. Those are really concrete habits and there is a ton of literature and therapeutic practices like CBT that are designed to help people first start noticing habits that they think of as unconscious and ingrained and then to start working to stop them. So again, bring that up with your therapist, ask about CBT, ask about like habit changing kind of literature, seek that out. This might sound a little bit micromanaging, but you have no friends, so you’re hurting and you really seem highly motivated to change, which is just like start carrying around a little notebook. And if you catch yourself saying something about what somebody else is wearing, make a little note. Mark it down. What did you say? And just just do that for two weeks so that you get a sense of how often you’re doing it, how long it takes you to realize that you’ve done it, what you felt like afterwards. And then, you know, even like writing yourself a little note in the morning or setting a little text alert, that’s like don’t talk to people about their outfits today. That might seem a little odd or a little like not seeing the forest for the trees, but I do really think that that is a habit you can break yourself of.

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S7: Yeah, it’s funny. Bit like when Jezebel I came out was like they used to call this like girl on girl crime or body shaming or whatever.

S8: When those terms started in the late 20s, I felt like before that there was like more of a consensus about like feeling OK, commenting on other people’s outfits. And now it’s a little bit more so, a little bit more like socially prescribed. And that is my point to bring up Jezebel is that it was a learned habit, right. Is that that people were able to, like, change that habit. It’s it’s not like that trait.

S1: Yeah, I think that’s a really excellent point. I think that a lot of this is something that’s shifted over the last, I don’t know, 15, maybe 20 years. And, you know, it’s been possible for other people to change that. It’s possible for you to. And, yeah, if you’re if you’re really motivated and you pay attention and you set concrete goals, you will, I believe, make progress. It may not be immediate. You may occasionally backslide or fuck up, but you will get better at this and push your therapist. Just just push her. Push her good. I mean, don’t be mean to your therapist. Obviously, she’s a therapist and she can she can handle a real client. But, you know, good luck. All right, you take our next letter.

S9: OK, so the subject is how can we navigate this question mark? Dear Prudence, my partner and I, both women have been together for 12 years, married for five. All in all, things are great in our little love nest. With one exception. I enjoy having sexual conversations online with men. She hates it. She hates that I lie about it. She hates that I want attention from others and she hates that it’s for men barring me giving up something that I enjoy. What are our next steps?

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S1: Kind of want to put this letter writer in touch with the first one just so they can sort of, you know, talk to each other, like, what do you do with your desires?

S9: Yeah, but what do you do? What do you do? You know, I feel and this is sort of actually related to the advice we went for for the first letter. It’s like I’m the last person who thinks you can talk people out of what they desire. Right. I don’t. But the phrase here that really hit me in terms of it causing a relationship problem is she hates that I lie about it. Yeah. In that the rest of it is, as you say, just like a problem of I have desires that are not yours in a relationship.

S10: And it seems to me the whole exercise of being in a relationship is is talking about and working through those desires, which are often conflicting.

S9: I think there is a problem, though, if you’re engaging in the activity and then you’re lying about it to your partner in a way that I mean, she hates that I lie about it. I don’t I’m not entirely sure why I was thinking about this after I read this letter, but it implies to me that the lying is has happened on multiple occasions. Yeah, that was my read, too. Yeah. And that’s where I can see that she has a problem with it because it feels like you’re saying that your desires are not something you want to be discussed in the relationship somehow. Right. And I guess I just don’t think a relationship can work that way.

S1: Yeah, I think the one gift here in what is a very painful situation is you have the gift of, you know, that life is not working. She already knows that you do this. She already knows that. You know that she does that. You do this. So I can’t promise you that this means you two are going to stay together or that you’re going to be able to work through it in such a way that she just feels great about it at the end. But you can at least stop lying. And that doesn’t mean either, like every morning you come in with coffee and you’re like, here’s everyone I talked to last night and how great it was. But to talk either together or maybe with a couples counselor about I think one of the reasons that I lied about this is because I have wanted to find a way to siloed off from our relationship. That was not a great plan. It didn’t work. It hurt my partner and it hurt her deeply. And so not that this is going to be the thing that fixes it all, but at least it’s the first step towards figuring out if you two can make this work or if you can’t is just saying, I really like it, I really like it. And I know that that hurts you and the things that I’ve done in order to do it in secret and to lie to you about it and to make you anxious and suspicious. I’m sorry for and they shouldn’t have done those things. And those were wrong. Those were hurtful. And those were with the trust that exists between us. But I also don’t want to promise you that I’ll stop wanting it or that that part of me isn’t real. And so what are we going to what do we want to do about that? What solutions seem possible to us? What’s available to us? You know, what does she want from me? Like you don’t say that she’s asked you to stop. Just that she hates it, and so I just wonder, like. What are you two avoiding talking about, like the cat is already out of the bag, you might as well have the painful conversations because you’re already having all the pain, but not enough of the clarity to figure out does this mean we’re incompatible? Does this mean the only version where we can see a relationship continuing is one where she’s like, OK, do it, but don’t ever let me find out about it again. And then she’s just constantly sad and feeling insecure and I’m constantly feeling evasive and like I’m getting away with something and guilty and like, is that a relationship that either of us really want, you know?

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S11: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, it’s tricky because the way that it’s presented in this letter, I feel like the letter writer is hoping or wishing that will weigh in on, you know, the fact that it’s a man and this person is and isn’t a same sex relationship or the fact that it’s sexual.

S4: But even like it appears that this couple has not even discussed it enough for it to be clear which of those two elements, the problem or whether it’s a problem in combination.

S11: And it feels like those are conversations you absolutely actually have to have. I’m not sure there’s an objective answer about, like, whether this is OK. There’s only the answer that the two of you work out together. Yeah.

S1: And I just I want to point out, I think something that I noticed, which is just that the sentence at the end, barring me, giving up something that I enjoy, what are our next steps? Presumably you don’t say so, but I would assume you don’t enjoy the part where you’ve been lying to her and she feels sad and hates it. Right. Like, right. Because if that’s part of what you’re getting out of this, that’s really worrying. That’s like also go to an individual therapist and figure out what to do with the part of yourself that derives pleasure from making your partner feel unwanted, pushed aside, cheated on or ignored like that. I don’t think I hope you don’t enjoy it. And if you do enjoy it addressed that.

S11: Yeah. I mean, to me, that would take it outside of the realm of just like a desire that you have or something that you want to to do into the realm of something that you want to do to your partner, in which case it’s no longer just something harmless that you’re that you’re because you’re bringing this partner into it. Right. Like the the the pleasure of the act doesn’t exist without the hand to the partner. And then and then. I don’t know.

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S1: Right. Right. Because here’s the thing is like there’s a big difference here between the desires, which is not something that you have to either conceal when you’re dating or apologize for something that you feel. But the behavior, which is that apparently when you two got together, it wasn’t with the understanding that you would have like sexting relationships or like virtual forms of sexual contact with other people. And so, you know, that that that part of it that is not the same thing is the desire. That is not the thing that you can say. This is this is how I feel. It is what it is like. That’s a choice that you made, which was not, to be honest with your partner about something you wanted, even if you didn’t think that her response was going to be. That sounds terrific. I feel great about that. Like that. That is not something to be proud of. That’s not something that you did. Well, that’s not something I think you can look back on and say, I really handled talking about my desires in a way that I’m just really proud of. And I hope I get to do again like one thing. Sorry. I know. I know we’re getting a little lost in the weeds here, but. This is a very short letter, actually did edited a little bit for for brevity, and now I feel like I wish I had left it in because I feel like this speaks to something. The sentence, all in all, originally read, all in all, things are great and our little lesbian love nest. And it felt a little bit sarcastic. Yeah. And a little bit dismissive. And I wonder if your partner would describe things as great. I wonder if she would appreciate it being your relationship, your, you know, your marriage, your 12 year relationship as a little lesbian love nest. Whereas then you go on to say love talking to man online, love getting sexual attention. It’s so great. I enjoy it like. The dismissiveness on the one side and then the just like hell yeah, on the other, yeah, I just I feel really bad for your partner and I wish that you could be more honest with yourself about whether or not you really can give her what she wants in this relationship, because it seems pretty clear to me that you are hurting her and then compounding that hurt by dismissing and downplaying her pain.

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S6: Yeah, there’s something very aggressive about the last line to you about like, you know, barring me giving up something that I enjoy, which, again, you haven’t actually said in this letter, is something she’s asked you to do. Maybe, but there’s something just like sort of like, well, barring my having to do something totally illegal.

S1: Yeah. They would just like, suck and be a real drag. Yeah. Because of my bummer wife. Yeah. Yeah. I just really hope that honestly I kind of hope she leaves you and I hope that you spend a little time feeling torn up about it and that in the future, whoever you date next, if you do not want monogamy, if you don’t want to not have explicitly sexual conversations with a lot of people on the side, particularly men, let people know upfront. Give him the chance to decide if they’re up for that, because there are people who will be fine with it and there are people who will think it’s hot and there will be people who think like, oh, I haven’t done that, but I might be into it. You don’t have to find somebody who doesn’t want that and then lie and hurt them.

S11: Yeah, yeah. The one thing you might not find is somebody who wants you to lie about it. I mean, sometimes I do know that sometimes people say, well, just do it and don’t tell me about it. I actually without being too prescriptive because everybody has a different relationship. I have never heard of such an arrangement working out in the end. Yeah.

S1: I am also inclined to be skeptical as a response.

S11: I just think, unfortunately, that the nature of a relationship means that you have to have a relation over something and the relation can’t be like we will not have a relation about this. Like it just it it rarely works out that way.

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S1: Yeah, yeah. You can have this thing. But what I’m going to have is I pretend you don’t have this thing and we’ll both be in different kinds of pain and not acknowledge it. So I wish you slightly less luck than the other letter writer, but still some luck because I want you to be able to live an honest life where you’re not unnecessarily hurting people. Would you read our last letter?

S6: Yes. Subject my higher up at my new job referred to himself as my quote unquote Master Dear Prudence, I’m three months into a job as an executive assistant in a field I was really excited about.

S12: About a month in the head of another department lost his assistant when she moved into another position and they haven’t replaced her. There’s no hiring freeze. It’s just not a priority while we’re still all working remotely. My boss, who is functionally the CEO, volunteered me to help the other department head, Frank, with his schedule, which is turning out to be a relatively large task. Well, it’s not overwhelming. I’m frustrated because it’s definitely more than I expected when I accepted this position. To make matters worse, Frank’s not very good at delegating and I don’t really get his communication style. If he were my boss, I would spend more time trying to adapt and accommodate his working style. But my actual bosses assured me that Frank is not my boss. However, Frank seems to think he is. He refers to me as his assistant. In emails to others today, I was unable to answer an unscheduled call from Frank because I was already on and called directly related to my actual job. I emailed to apologize for the inconvenience and he responded, saying, It sounds like you’re serving three masters, meaning he, my boss and our company’s chief of staff, who I also worked closely with, were my masters. That’s where it really bothered me, the suddenness and subsequent confusion of working for him has been frustrating and demoralizing and makes me feel undervalued. Being referred to as a servant to three masters feels downright degrading. I don’t believe Frank is a bad person, but I’m horrified. He used this language toward me and tune in to feel like I can rock the boat. But I don’t think this is something I should just keep to myself. What should I do?

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S1: I want to start by just saying I feel like or I worry that Frank would try to justify this by being like it’s a it’s an expression. It’s from Matthew six twenty four. No one can serve two masters either. You will love one and hate the other. You will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. It’s a it’s a terrible thing to use in a professional context, especially about somebody who is an employee and not a servant. So in case anyone tries to throw that one at you as a justification or like, don’t worry, it was just a reference like don’t be swayed, don’t let that slow you down. It’s not an expression that anybody should be using at work about an employee, especially an employee who has been volunteered to work for them by a boss who then also says out of the same mouth, don’t worry, you’re not really working for him. So this this this to me feels more like kind of the final straw rather than like an isolated incident. Or the only problem like the problem is that you’ve been at this job for three months. Somebody else moved on. They decided not to replace her. Your boss, who is functionally the CEO, which I don’t quite that feels a little weird and ambiguous to me, too. Like it doesn’t in context. It makes me a little worried about the structure here. Volunteered you to quote unquote help Frank, which it sounds like was very vague and did not include like, here’s what you will help him with and here’s what you won’t help him with. It was just like you’ll help and then says to you, don’t worry, he’s not your boss, but says to Frank, Yes, this is your assistant. Like you are being put in a pretty difficult situation by a boss who it sounds like doesn’t want to say anything that somebody doesn’t want to hear and is trying to take advantage of your relative inexperience and newness on the job to make your work challenging and more overwhelming that it should be. So I think the problem is like, yes, the language bothered me, but it it brings to light the real problem, which is, I don’t know. What priority Franks administrative scheduling should be on my list of priorities, like you are my boss, you tell me and you need to also tell Frank that’s a short term solution, I think. Do you feel like long term this is a place where this letter writer should really stick around?

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S6: No, I mean, so two or three years ago, I moved into Hollywood, which had a completely different interpretation of the role of an assistant than any other place I had ever worked. And one of the things that I feel like I’ve learned is that people who have this definition of understand, which is like you can help whoever. And also, like, there tends to be a little bit of of like I’m not even sure that Frank deserved an apology for, like, not not being available to do something for him.

S1: I didn’t want to blame the letter writer for doing that because it sounds like they’re under a lot of pressure. But like you shouldn’t of apologize. I mean, you shouldn’t have had to apologize. Rather, that’s not something that you should be apologizing for. Again, not anywhere on the same scale as what Frank and your boss are doing.

S11: Yeah, I mean, I think the problem here is, is the abusive sort of position of abuse, the position of executive assistants, which is something that I will say, although I don’t want to caution the executive assistant like not to say anything or do anything, I think it’s totally within the bounds to go to your boss and say, I need a clarification of my responsibilities. And I would even use this like a not not necessarily what Frank said in the email, because you don’t want to get into a position where he goes to Frank and says, what did you say in the email that’s not going to work out well for you? Unfortunately, because I don’t think Frank does not sound like the kind of person who is going to be like, oh, yes, I did something wrong here. He’s a man in a workplace who treats like an assistant, like they’re a personal servant. It’s not going to go well. So but I think that you can say to your boss, like, I need a clarification of responsibilities because, you know, I had this incident where I wasn’t able to to help Frank with something because I was helping you. Right. And I just need you, my boss, to, like, tell me what my my order of priorities are.

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S1: I wonder if one sort of work around there is you can email your boss and include this email. You don’t have to flag the servant line or draw additional attention to it, but I think it would be helpful to show it to your boss. I think that might be one way of walking the line of not feeling like you’re exposing yourself to too much risk by, quote unquote rocking the boat, but also letting him see. Like the problem is that Frank calls me when I’m doing work for you and I’m not getting clarity from you about what order of priority should I be directing him to you if he’s upset that I was in a meeting for you. And so this will at least give your boss the opportunity to realize he has created a situation where you are being overtaxed because he has not been clear. So to maybe forward it to him and then just say, I’d love to talk sometime tomorrow about ranking all of the tasks that are being set ahead of me, as well as a timeline for when you think you’ll be hiring for that position. Again, none of that’s like inappropriate or pushy or like going over your pay grade to ask those questions. Those are absolutely appropriate questions. You can ask them professionally, you can ask them politely, but you have every right to ask them. And if you really pushes back and it’s just like, I just want you to be a team player, we don’t know where we’re going to hire someone else can just make it work. That is a sign that you should be looking for another job right now. Yeah. And if he does kind of a middling job responding to it, maybe that means you can try to eke out another couple of months while also looking for another job in the next year so that you don’t have something that’s like a really short stay on your resume, which can sometimes be hard, although it’s not also the end of the world.

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S9: People understand that some jobs are bad.

S1: Yeah. You also know, like, OK, I’m not going to be here in five years.

S10: Yeah. I mean, I think I think you can do all that. And I’ll be honest, I don’t think that you’ll get the response out of your boss that you want. I think this is just like an unfortunate sort of side effect of these workplaces where assistants are seen as people who like should be available at any time of the day or night to, like, take a call from somebody. And also, in general, it’s been my experience that, like, putting assistants in charge of scheduling is is like actually a really easy way for them to end up overwhelmed and kind of abused, especially when you’ve only been there for three months and you don’t yet know all of the ins and outs of the industry. Yeah, it just seems to me like like, look, I don’t know what industry this is, but there’s a bunch of industries in which in which it’s held out like, oh, you’ll be like an apprentice and you’ll get to learn these things. And it seems like instead, what you got loaded down with here, letter writer, is the responsibilities for like two or three jobs, which is a red flag in and of itself and in my in my experience. And again, it’s not you’re right. It’s not untoward to say like I just need a clarification of my responsibilities. You should look at that. I really think you should just look at that as like that’s something that I’m doing short term to make my life livable. I start to look for another job because already the way that they’re treating you suggests that you’re not going to really get out of this what you want. I know people. Like, I met people here again in this industry that I’m suddenly in where people have assistants, and the funny thing about it is that if you’re good at it, if you’re good at scheduling and you’re good at juggling all these things, what happens is you end up being an assistant for a lot longer.

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S9: Mm hmm. You don’t get into the field that you’re excited about.

S10: So, yeah, I just think you should keep all of those things in mind, not knowing enough about this particular situation. But like, just already, the way that they’ve set you up, they have set you up to fail. That doesn’t bespeak a great professional opportunity that you need to worry too much about.

S1: And that Frank in that email acknowledge like. So the problem is that it seems like you have three bosses like, yes, to be honest, but it sounds like you made it sound like a mistake you had made, like you foolish, foolish person. You you should have just had one boss. It’s like, yeah, I’m not in charge of that.

S10: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I don’t even know why Frank would even make such a remark in an email like what’s the point. Right. Like I’d like to know the language is actually like a great deal less concerning than the general atmosphere of the job. And again, like there are short term things that you can do to make it better. But I think sometimes this, again, is what comes from the culture of assistance. You’re basically personal servants.

S1: Yeah. And I think my last addition to that will just be, again, in the short term, when it comes to frank wrangling, which I hope you do not have to do as much of in the near future, but in the future, if you are not available to him because you were doing your job, don’t apologize to him. Just say like you can say, sorry, I wasn’t able to take that call occasionally. But generally speaking, I think what you should be communicating well while remaining polite and all the other good things that you should do when you’re talking to somebody senior to you is just I wasn’t able to take that call because I was doing X thing for name of your boss here and then let him know a time that you’re later available again, like read the room. If it’s not if nobody else does that, if nobody speaks to senior management in such a way, you can find ways to reword it, but really don’t frame it as something that you did wrong, because I think Frank will seize on those opportunities. And he will he will use that as an excuse to say even she knows she’s fucking up so that if you’re just able to make it clear, like I was working on this project so that there’s like a reference, a name, he knows that you’re doing something and he can’t or won’t try to push around your boss in the same way that he’ll try to push you around and then let him know I’ll be available tomorrow afternoon or I’ll be available at this later time. If that doesn’t work for you, you know, speak to my boss and he’ll let me know if he needs to rearrange something. I think that’s probably the best way to not give him the excuse he’s looking for, to say, sounds like you’re working too hard.

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S9: Yeah, exactly.

S1: And I’m just sorry. This sucks. Yeah. And I hope that Franck’s. Girlfriend says, I want to move in with some guy named Mario in Germany, and he has to deal with that on the side, I realize that that’s I shouldn’t try to fanfiction these letters or try to make a lousy boss suffer in their personal life. But I am only human and sometimes I say things without thinking and sometimes I mean Fischell. Thank you so much for coming. Of course, fun.

S9: Good, thank you for having me.

S12: I hope we fixed a lot of problems, other people’s problems.

S1: Thank you for being here. Please say hello to your cats for me. I will. I will.

S13: Thanks for listening to Dear Prudence. Our producer is Phil Cercas. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton. Don’t miss an episode of the show. Had to slate dot com. Dear Prudence, to subscribe and remember, you can always hear more prudence by joining Slate. Plus go to sleep dotcoms. Pretty hard to sign up. If you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message for zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three to seven. And you might hear your answer on an 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.

S1: And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. Whether she’s talking in front of you were smoking in the bedroom, the point of the smoke is to make you feel so bad that you give her what she wants. Yeah, don’t do whatever you have to do to distract yourself from the fact that she’s being snotty if avoiding confrontation with people who don’t take confrontation well worked. That would be my advice. But I hear every day from so many people who say, well, this person doesn’t take confrontation well. So I have bent over backwards to accommodate them. But wouldn’t you know it? They’re still being an asshole. Like, yeah, sometimes you have to pursue a little healthy conflict. You will survive. To listen to the rest of that conversation, join Slate plus now at Slate dot com forward slash Prudy pot.