The “Zoom Faux Pas” Edition
S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you.
S2: Your produce, your prudence here, Prudence, yes, put into your proof here. Do you think that I should contact him again? No. How? Thank you. Thank you.
S3: Hello and welcome back to The Dear Prudence Show. I am your host. Dear Prudence, also known as Daniel M. Lavery. And with me in the studio this week is Melissa Burke, a Brooklyn based tech writer and part of the program committee for New York’s Asian-American International Film Festival. Melissa, welcome. Thank you. I’m not actually a tech writer. Oh, he’s a writer instead of work. Friends, listeners of the show. I just like you also know that this is actually our second take because we got about a third of the way through the episode when I got a very nice text from Phil saying just a gentle checking to make sure you’re recording to which I responded. Fuck. Melissa is a Brooklyn based tech worker. This is our second take at the show. And I’m just I’m I’m deeply in touch with the concept of humility right now. We all are now. How’s your day going, Melissa? How you doing? It’s been a day beyond this. Work is superheavy. Life is superheavy right now. It is hopefully for the next hour or so, we can lighten various burdens that other people may be carrying and then we get to resume the day as it is. And I’m just very grateful to you for bearing with my slow sliding into a pit of quicksand.
S4: And they’re throwing you a vine. Would you please read our first letter? Sure. Thank you. First letter is Zoome faux pas. Dear Prudence, while leaving a zoo meeting during the work day, I forgot I was screen sharing and clicked over to an erotic fan fiction site. The site isn’t explicitly pornographic, just suggestive. And there were no pictures, but there was definitely erotic language visible. This lasted a few seconds before someone chatted me in Zoom to remind me I was screen sharing. I got flustered and clicked back to my work screen. No one reference the incident at all, but I am honestly sick with shame. I feel like I lost some of my authority with the folks I was in the meeting with. Plus, I know this will probably get around the office. My office persona is very straight laced and buttoned up, so I’m sure this piece of gossip will spread like wildfire. Should I email the meeting attendees and apologized? Wait till I’m in a one on one call with an attendee and apologize. As you say, nothing and hope it blows over. Please help. I’m convinced I’m gonna get fired. Made fun of mercilessly or both.
S3: So the first time that we address this, I had mentioned the possibility of also contacting Ask a Manager, which is another advice column that often talks really in in in greater detail and with more expertise about issues that affect stuff like H.R. and management. And I actually this time around had managed to pull up a couple of examples. So it looks like Alison over it. Ask a manager has tackled versions of this question before. So mostly I just want to open by saying be sure to ask Alison.
S5: In addition to asking me, yes, all always for work things I am a constant reader of ask a manager and felt like. This subject definitely come up in the past. It just definitely feels much more intense now that so many people are constantly and zoom in constantly in meetings and constantly screen sharing in ways they hadn’t before. So some of the intensity maybe behind that.
S3: Yeah. And I think it’s clear the letter writer already feels very ashamed and is deeply concerned. So I don’t want to relitigate too much, but to just affirm, you know, that wasn’t good. Don’t look at erotic fan fiction on a work computer if it’s not company property. You’re not in the same kind of danger zone. But even if it was your own laptop that you were simply using to lead a meeting, you know, you need to never have those tabs up when you’re working. And that will just be good to do as a matter of course, so that you can’t ever be in that position. Save that for other devices. Save it for after hours. Save it for non-work computers. There’s actual steps you can take to make sure that this is an accident. That does not happen to you again. And I think that will be helpful, at least in part as you deal with the shame and the anxiety.
S5: Also, don’t chase down your colleagues to try to get ahead of this as a piece of gossip. If it’s going to become gossip, it’s already become gossip and you’re sort of cornering them and putting in possibly putting them in an uncomfortable position of, you know, having to relive this or learn more about you than is appropriate for work if they haven’t already come to you on a colleague basis. They’re probably not going to. And that sets up the possibility for additional harassment on your part, like push towards them.
S3: Right. Right. I totally agree. I think that there are people who would be able to say this was a momentary lapse. There was nothing explicit in the language, although it was obviously, you know, non-work related. It wasn’t like an image I can’t get out of my head. It didn’t last a long time. It wasn’t accidental on purpose. I’m willing to move on from this who might instead feel more uncomfortable and in in a more awkward position if their colleague or possible manager. I don’t know to what extent when the writer says that they’re worried about losing their authority, if they just mean their ability to be treated like a colleague or if these are actual people who report to them. So at any rate, who might feel much more comfortable with any kind of a follow up conversation than just a momentary accident. So definitely I agree.
S1: Don’t don’t track anybody down. It probably would make a difference that these were people who directly report to you because there’s, you know, a real power imbalance there. And if that were the case, I would maybe encourage you to speak to an employment lawyer to get a sense of how liable you are, how bad this might be, what you might be able to do and what you might not be able to do just to get some answers. I think that will also help with some of the shame, because some you know, there’s kind of productive shame and there’s unproductive shame. And the productive shame is the stuff that’s going to make sure that you don’t ever do this again, that you are mindful of the ways in which this might have, like, deeply upset some of your employees or some of your colleagues. That’s good. That unproductive shame is the like. I am a monster. I am bad. I’ll never recover from this. This will be the defining moment of my life.
S3: And that is not going to help you do anything. And that’s also being too, too shameful, too hard on yourself. Does that seem like a reasonable distinction? I think so, yeah. So if these are colleagues and the authority you referring to is just workplace authority, that’s one thing. If these are people you manage, that is a little bit trickier. You and I had talked the first time around about whether or not it made sense for the letter writer to go to H.R. first or not. And I’m just curious if you don’t mind kind of saying, again, what you said last time, just as you were thinking about that possibility? I found it helpful.
S5: Yeah, I feel like in these situations, H.R. comes to u. H. R. Is worried about the company. H.R. isn’t necessarily worried about you as a worker. So much in a situation like you think that getting in touch with your colleagues and getting ahead of it is the best action. It probably isn’t. And I feel like if it was going to be a thing for each. Are you also would have heard about that by now? They’re usually very quick to act on anything that could possibly blow back.
S3: I think this is a really good point. And then, you know, as soon as someone draw your attention to it, you fix to the problem. That’s a good thing. You’re committed to not doing it again. You absolutely can take steps in the future to make sure that it never happens again. That’s all to the good. I think at this point, aside from checking in with a lawyer, the best thing to do is act. Professional at work. And don’t don’t try to make other people sit through a more uncomfortable follow up conversation.
S6: And if you feel like six months from now, you still can’t stop thinking about it.
S3: And you feel like maybe I just want to look for a job at a different company where no one knows that I did this. That might be an option available to you. But but I do think as time goes on, if nobody was made to be really uncomfortable by it, nobody brings it up and you don’t make other people feel like they need to reassure you. I think you’ll be able to move on. Possibly.
S5: If it’s anything like my past workplaces, just give it a week and something bigger will have happened and everybody will well, they won’t have forgotten, but they’ll have moved onto the next piece of. Oh, my God. Can you believe that this happened?
S3: Right. And that’s tricky because a lot of it can also depend upon workplace culture, which is not to say there’s like workplaces where it’s great for you to broadcast what you’re, like reading for, like, private, you know, erotic delectation. Just that there are workplaces where that would be like really, really, really out of character. Really jarring. And other workplaces where it would be more like the funny story, none of which is is pleasant, obviously, and none of which makes it like no big deal. Everybody, you know, has stashes of erotic fan fiction on their work computer. And, you know, no big deal if somebody sees it. I don’t mean to say that at all, just that it does not sound like your workplace is one where people are going to feel like. I have no idea how to talk to you now. I agree. But yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard. You did do something embarrassing. You did do something inappropriate. It certainly wouldn’t make other people feel more comfortable working with you. It’s something you will hopefully be able to overcome. But it is something you will have to overcome. And, you know, if H.R. does come to you, if there are additional consequences. I think the best thing that you can do is just be straightforward, acknowledged that what you did was not right, that it was wrong and that you shouldn’t have done it without trying to bring up too much of, like, self flagellation. I’m awful. I’m sorry. I’m sick with shame. I think that would be too much energy to bring to it. And good luck. We get to move on to something that is non-work related, but definitely unusual. I think it’s my turn to read this studies, so I’ll take it. The subject is black facing hair. Dear Prudence, my best friend of 15 years, Meg, is white. This is an important element of our dilemma. She has thick, curly, unruly hair. In these pandemic times, Meg has started getting much more active in various online communities, including one for black women who wear their hair naturally. I’ve seen some of makes posts and Prudy, she’s pretending to be black. She claims it’s because she doesn’t want fellow community members to feel weird that she joined and because her hair is similar in texture to those of many of the black folks in the group. This makes me wildly uncomfortable. Megan, I usually call each other out on our foolishness, but this feels like a step too far and I truly have no idea how to handle it. I’m white as well, if that affects the appropriate response. Please advise.
S4: Yeah, I ran with this one because I am a black woman with thick curly hair. I really think it’s strange that Meg is pretending to be black and I. I am very confused as to what that means. Like, how is she presenting herself in this community? Because I come at it from the approach that she is very curly hair. She has things to say about products that work and that don’t work. She probably has things to say about experimenting with them. So why should her race enter into it? And if her race does enter into it, why would you pretend to be black? Your skin tone has no bearing on your authority as somebody with curly hair. There are people with super curly hair across races who talk about hair products all the time because it is incredibly hard to find something that works well with your hair. But just not destroy your hair. And it’s an important thing. And like, once you find that great product, you want to trumpet that to the world.
S3: So I think it’s worth sitting down with Meg and asking why she’s doing this, but also asking her get it out and also sort of asking yourself why you said her hair was unruly. Because I feel like that has. Some sort of distancing, perhaps, with the way that you approach each other, like is mixing her hair is one really goes. There she is. It feels like she didn’t get any of the positive elements of being in these communities. Right. If you’re saying they’re unruly, you need to, like, check some things within yourself. Even the subject of blackface with her hair. She has super curly five C. I actually have no idea what a category stations are, but something like that. She is very kinky hair. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And there’s nothing about that that makes you black, even if people of a particular race are those sorts of people who tend to have that kind of hair. Yeah, yeah. The unruly part caught me as well. And I was yeah, I was also noting that word and I was right there with you. Like ruly in comparison to what.
S5: Yeah, that’s part of why Megg probably needs a community thing like that. If she’s been told her whole life how difficult it is to have curly hair. It’s nice to be in a space where you can discuss these things with people and like, you know, start to feel good about yourself. And after years of being told that there’s a natural part of your being is not OK. But the flipside of that is it is not OK to pretend to be somebody you are not. And you’re thinking that it will make other members of that community more comfortable if you pretend to be someone you’re not is not actually true.
S3: Yeah. Yeah. She’s like putting a lot on the women on these message boards. I think with that claim, like there’s there’s something missing in this story, which is like there are tons of resources, message boards, conversations going on in real life as well as online between people with curly and kinky hair that are not exclusively black. So the fact that she sought out an environment that does seem to be just for black women and then wanted to claim to be one in order to sort of like get in on those conversations, is like you didn’t have to do that. You could have just like gone to one of the many sites dedicated to the care of curly hair and said, look, here’s my issue. Does anyone else know how to handle it? Well, we have one, Rachel, all. We don’t need more of them. Yeah.
S6: So I think that the key to me is like the one that she’s in is for black women who wear their hair naturally.
S3: It’s not just like black women dealing with curly hair. It’s black women who, like, choose particular hairstyles for their curly hair and and like wants to be a part of that experience or talking about ways in which. Did that strike you as well? Yeah.
S5: That also got weird and I needed more information because wearing your hair naturally has so many connotations to it. Like I wear my hair natural. Right. But I have looks. So I I’m not putting product in my hair and having these other kinds of potential products going on. I am using something else completely. I’m not going to talk to somebody about their up to or I’m not going to talk about humidity affecting my hair because it doesn’t really. But I still have natural hair. Are you talking to women wearing afros or are you talking to women who just have like very kinky curls? Or are you talking to women who have cornrows? Like, I need more information about what natural means. Yeah.
S3: Yeah. So I think there’s actually a like I get that it’s uncomfortable to the letter writer, but it’s also an incredibly straightforward conversation. Like all you need to do is say, like it’s really weird that you pretend to be a black woman online to talk about your hair. I want you to stop doing it. I think you should stop doing it. And then also, if you feel like there’s room for that conversation, like, what are you getting out of this? Why are you doing this? When did you start doing it? How did you justify it to yourself? How would it feel if you ever ran into one of these people, like in real life and you had to deal with that like. But yet, like this could actively make it difficult for her to like. Pursue friendships in real life and could potentially be like distressing or hurt, fallen. So that’s something worth asking her about as well. Our next letter is complicated on a couple of different fronts. I think it’s your turn to read it. Would you mind doing that for us?
S4: Certainly the subject is, do I lose weight even though it will hurt my spouse? Dear Prudence, my wife and I are in our 40s and I front into something I was hoping to put off. We’re both overweight. I’m a big and tall man. She’s a stocky, short woman. We’re probably average for the U.S. Being overweight doesn’t impede our lives and we live a relatively healthy lifestyle. That said, my wife has had serious psychological issues with her weight for her entire life. This is a deep seated thing and it’s caused her pain. I do my best to help her and she’s in therapy. But it’s an ongoing process. I think she’s beautiful. She’s a sexy. Now’s the day I met her and I tell her that. But I know this doesn’t solve everything. I generally avoid the topic of weight at her request. And I believe her that her years of sincere dieting, trying to exercise regimes have mostly ended in despair. She’s trying to be happy with her body as it is, and it’s a long, slow journey. Last year we went on vacation with a couple of friends of ours, and on the way home, my wife confessed that she had been crying in the shower each night at the hotel because her best friend had lost a lot of weight and she felt like a whale in comparison. Just seeing the changes, something she believes she can’t have, certainly not easily made her deeply sad. Of course, she was nothing but nice and joyful, and we were all together as she keeps this to herself. The issue is that my doctor has told me that I should consider losing weight given my family history of high blood pressure and cholesterol. Now that I’m approaching middle age, I’m starting to consider it. The problem is I know it be easy for me as a tall man to just stop snacking and start some exercise routines and drop pounds. I think this would devastate my wife, who would feel awful that her partner can do this thing so easily that she would give her right arm poor. She would have to see my accomplishment. And to her, her failure every day. So I stay fluffy for her. It’s my body. Sure. But it’s our relationship. And I love her. We’re happy together. And we’ve spent a long time building our life together. I don’t want to hurt her. I’m so torn. Woo! There is a lot happening there.
S3: I think it’s clear that the letter writer loves his wife deeply and really wants to be helpful to her where possible. So I don’t want to be too hard on him. But I do think that the the thing that you think is your problem right now. I have respectfully disagree that it’s the problem like that. There’s the certainty of all it’s going to take is two minor adjustments. And I know that I’m going to lose this amount of weight immediately. It’s going to happen. It’s guaranteed because I’m a guy and because I’m tall, all that’s going to require is me to toggle these two little shifts with no effort. And I’m going to automatically become this. I’m going to have this new appearance. Maybe that will happen. Maybe it won’t. I don’t think you can count on that as a guarantee. And I I wonder if part of what’s going on there is again, you might feel this in conjunction with a real love for and desire to help your wife. But there’s this sort of assumption here of like this is going to be really easy for me. How do I deal with the fact that I don’t have body image issues and my relationship to fatness is super, you know, laid back, laissez faire, uncomplicated, unburdened by body image issues.
S4: And when that’s made obvious to my wife, it’s going to destroy her. And I’m going to be both thin and emotionally stable. And she’s going to be fat and upset all the time. And I bristle at that framing, I think. Oh, yeah, he’s definitely treating her like she’s glass and thinking that this whole situation can easily be achieved. It’s hard work. And you’re also sort of like. Blaming your wife and using that as a way to take the easy way out.
S7: I mean, if you want to lose weight, do you want to lose weight? I definitely believe in the health at every size campaign. If you want to go out and take up a sport, do it. It shouldn’t just be about doing this to lose weight. It used to be you’re doing something that you actually enjoy. And this is improving your life because you’re pouring your energy into this. But the flip side of that should not be I’m not going to do this because my wife will completely fall apart and I don’t want to be a party to that.
S3: Yeah, I’m right there with you. I think that whole like she. She shared with you something really vulnerable and painful. And I get that that was hard for you to see because you love her and you want her to be well. But I think right now you’re trying to displace a lot of different things onto both your doctor and your wife. Like, I don’t want to lose weight, but my doctor says that I should. So it’s coming from him. And I’m not gonna be bothered whatever happens next. But my wife’s gonna be bothered. And there’s this sort of attempt to make other people the ones with desires and responses and emotions. And you. This kind of blank slate of I don’t need anything. I don’t want anything. I don’t react to anything. Again, I am not saying that. Like, that’s a claim that you would make about yourself. Letter writer, like when you get up in the morning. But I feel that in this letter, there’s a real sense of I’m doing great. I love my wife. That’s all. I don’t have anything else going on with me. She’s the one who has a lot of feelings, not me. Yeah.
S5: Clearly, you have a lot of feelings about this. I think, again, this is about just talking to the person. Like, if you decide that you want to consider losing weight. Great. Tell her this is going to happen. You’re going to make some changes. She wants to join you. Great. But she doesn’t have to. You love her. Like, explain all of the feelings you have for her. Everything. But you you wouldn’t need to make the decision for yourself.
S1: And I just think, like, trust that your wife has her own support network, her own therapist, that if you do end up losing weight at a rate that she finds painful or distressing, that she will be able to talk about it, that the solution to that is not do whatever you can on your end to make sure it never happens so that your wife never has to deal with uncomfortable feelings. I think that was really helpful, Melissa, to be like, don’t she is she has vulnerability. She has deep feelings here, but she is also not made of glass. She can handle these feelings. And the solution to those feelings is not live in such a way that they never come up. And then I think it would also just be helpful to check in with yourself. Do you have any thoughts or feelings about your own body? Any at all? Like, you know, I am not saying that you have to, like, uncover stuff that makes you, like, weep on a daily basis, but it might be helpful to do some really honest soul searching and say, like, what do I think about when I think of the idea of trying to lose weight? And if it doesn’t happen right away, does that make me feel anxious, angry at myself?
S3: Does it make me feel, you know, frustration? Does it make me feel like I’m not good enough? What would happen if I brought down my blood pressure and my cholesterol but I didn’t lose weight? Would I feel like I had failed to do something that I actually wanted? What do those things look like for me? Just so it’s not all about like my wife has feelings and I don’t think it’ll be good to to sit with those. But then. Yeah. No, I don’t think you should commit to any course of action that has to do with the way that you eat or the way that you move your body. That’s primarily designed around making sure that your wife doesn’t cry, especially when this is not something she’s ever asked of you. She’s never said don’t ever lose weight. I couldn’t handle it. If she were saying stuff like that, we’d we’d have a very different answer for you. But but you are I think that there’s a real love here. I think of like, I hate to see my wife sad, but then you’ve made a couple of assumptions and mental jumps as a result of that that I don’t think fit the situation. Yeah, totally. Yeah. So that you just I think that line about she would have to see my accomplishment.
S8: And to her, her failure everyday would encourage you to move away from language like that. I think you’re you’re aware and your wife is aware that to a certain extent she deals with, if not disordered eating, disordered eating related.
S3: Mental health issues that are pretty serious.
S6: But I also don’t think you have to buy into that language and say if that happened, what would happen was she would experience me as an accomplishment in herself, as a failure all day everyday for the rest of our lives. I think I would encourage you to pursue a broader idea of what recovery from some of those cycles might look like. And so I think. Maybe, maybe now’s a great time to go into couples counseling, particularly with a couples counselor who is experienced in dealing with people who as a couple have to deal with disordered eating and body image issues, who can help you figure out a relationship to these feelings that will last your entire life’s not just a theoretical near future where you’re a different size than you are now. And I think I think it’s time to move on. I think we should move on to birthdays. This is like equally like intense and fraught family stuff. So we’re not out of the woods just yet. But it’s my turn to read. I will take it. The subject is birthdays during estrangement. Dear Prudence. I’ve been estranged from my parents for almost a year. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And I didn’t make it lightly. I spent years trying to repair our relationship, sought out therapy for myself and begged them to come to family therapy and made many other attempts to compromise and find a relationship that worked. Nothing worked. They continued to treat me horribly. They made vicious, racist comments about my husband. I’m white. He’s black, objected at our wedding, sent us emails stating that they did not want, quote, mixed grandchildren. There is also a history of occasionally violent abuse towards me as a child. My husband and his family have been wonderfully kind and supportive as I’ve cut off contact with my family. My problem is that it’s now two weeks away from my mom’s birthday and I’m suddenly overcome with guilt. I’m my parents’ only child. And also the only person in our family who ever made an effort to get my mom things she wanted for the holidays. My dad just doesn’t try. Neither do her parents. And she doesn’t have close friends in the past. Birthdays were rare days in which my mom and I would really spoil each other. We’d always get along. She’d often tell me that I was the thing that made that day good. Now I keep thinking of her sitting with no one but my dad opening up the present that she likely purchased and then wrapped for him to, quote, give to her with nothing to make her day bright at all. It makes me cry thinking about it. I don’t want to get back in contact with her completely. But would it be weird for me to send a card and a present? Even though we don’t speak anymore? My husband says he’ll support whatever I want to do, but he personally leans toward not sending anything as he thinks this would be best for my mental health. What do you think? Is it strange to be estranged from parents but still want to send birthday presents without potentially be more hurtful to my mom than not to send anything? I thought I’d covered all the aspects of managing a strange bit with a therapist. I used to see, but I didn’t see this anxiety coming and can’t stop thinking about it. Who?
S5: I think no one is. It seems like you should get back in touch with your therapist or a therapist. I could be guessing wrong, but you thought that there had been an into your feelings. But feelings keep going. You’re always going to have reminders of of your feelings and unresolved feelings about your parents because there’s just such a huge part of your life and your being your family seems kind of messy. And that’s not your fault.
S4: Clearly, like your grandparents and your dad and your mom’s perhaps pulling away from other people, it’s not your fault. I think if you really want to send a card in a prison, okay, if it makes you feel good, it’s not hurting anyone.
S5: But what do you want to get from that? You want to make your mom feel good for this one day, but are you then opening up, getting back into her life and bring her back in? What happens after use in the present and the card? Are you both willing to work on your relationship? Is she willing to work on her relationship with your husband and the terrible things she said, then what does that also mean for your relationship with your father? Because clearly she hasn’t divorced him and he’s going to be around in some way. There’s there’s a lot bigger things to pick out here than just I want to send her a card and a presence so that she doesn’t feel bad today.
S8: Yeah, yeah, I am. I was struck by that line towards the end about I didn’t see this coming. Not to say like, oh, you should have anticipated it just because I read this letter and it makes total sense to me.
S1: Yeah. This is gonna be a hard day for you. This is one of you know, when I say this, not wanting to, like, diminish the fact that you experienced real love and affection on those days every year. Like, that’s real. I’m not trying to take that away. But it’s also true that your mother leveraged birthdays in order to manipulate you through softness, whereas in other ways she’s manipulated you through violence or verbal abuse or very loud racism. So what I hear in the second paragraph of this letter is I hear your mom talking. Like, this is the one day a year my mom’s happy. This is I’m only happy because my child buys me presents. No one else in my life thinks about me. I don’t have any friends. My husband doesn’t care about me. My parents don’t care about me. But this one day a year, my kid is good enough because they buy me a lot of presence. And so I think what you’re feeling right now is that real terror and fear that a newly estranged child feels at the prospect of, oh, I’ve really cut off ties with my parents. I’m no longer capitulating to this ritual where one day a year, my mother’s happiness is my responsibility and only I can give it to her. With all these gifts, nobody else will do it. There’s no other way for her to experience joy or cultivate real meaningful relationships. And if I don’t do it, I’m taking away the one thing in the world that made her happy for just one day a year. And am I really so selfish and such an ungrateful child that I would begrudge my mother one day of happiness per year? That’s what I’m reading in this. That’s the fear, that’s the anxiety, and I think that voice is is one that your parents and especially your mother, really carefully instilled within you by by using language like this around birthdays. Like you’re not the only person who’s capable of making your mother happy. You are not the only person who can control whether or not your mother has meaningful relationships. But she has created this ritual whereby you are. And so the idea of not doing it this year kind of almost feels like a bigger deal than not talking to her on another day where she’s just being a racist asshole because it’s like. But this was the one constant. And so I so understand why you feel anxious and scared. I so understand that.
S3: I think your mom’s worked very, very hard to make you feel like on that day her happiness is your responsibility. And, of course you can. Right. Like, if you decide you just have to send the card or the gift, you can do it. And then you’re also allowed to the next day, not take her call. It might make things a little trickier, but that’s allowed. You’re allowed to have complicated and sometimes loving feelings towards someone who abused you. I’m not trying to tell you what you can and can’t do because I don’t want to make, you know, giving affection to your mom this like, forbidden thing that, of course, then becomes all the more alluring.
S1: But I think I think you should just think that birthdays and the weeks leading up to them and possibly other holidays that were special are going to be especially hard days for you. And maybe you’re not ready to go back into weekly therapy right now, but you could absolutely, you know, check in, set up a couple of sessions, maybe reach out to some friends and say this time is really hard for me. It makes me feel really guilty and like I’m doing the wrong thing by putting distance between my violent, racist, abusive parents. Can you help me sit through this?
S5: You also have to remind yourself that estrangement is hard. That doesn’t mean that you need to let up and let toxic people back into your life, but. But it is really hard to work through. And something I think socially and culturally we’re taught not to do. So you’re feeling this constant Interpol and you you don’t necessarily know where to turn or what to do or should you capitulate. So it’s really good to have people in your life you can talk to you about that in addition to your husband, who has seen a lot of what went on before to bring you to this point.
S3: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s a really good idea about reaching out to other people, because there’s also gonna be ways in which, like, they’ve hurled racist abuse towards your husband. So, you know, there may also be times when he needs to say, like, I have limited reserves of of patients towards your parents and I’m not gonna be able to take on all of this. And that may be sometimes necessary and important for him. And in those moments, I want you to be able to have other people you can also reach out to. But mainly, I just want you to know this makes so much sense to me. This is a totally understandable response. This is something that I think you should kind of build into the cost of estrangement and plan ahead for it, because I think it will happen again. Estrangement is hard. It’s not something you just do once and then stop doing. In some ways, you kind of have to, you know, depending on how the person you’re strange with behave. Sometimes it’s thing you have to do really regularly. And oftentimes it’s accompanied by feelings of guilt and especially this idea that, like my mom’s all alone crying. Nobody loves her. Nobody gets her a gift. I was the only one, you know, that’s that that puts so much on you. That makes you the only person in the entire world who’s responsible for your mom’s happiness. And that’s what the foundation for a healthy relationship. That’s part of, I think, the language of abuse that you’re still letting yourself acknowledge as abuse.
S1: And that’s all I got for that one. Wish you the best hope on your mother’s birthday, you can take yourself out and do something that feels restful. Restorative. Maybe not. Out. Out. Because I don’t know how safe that is where you are. But something that just really puts you in touch with the fact that your mother is capable of finding peace, meaningful relationships, usefulness, self esteem, self respect without you. You’re not the only person in the world who can give that to her. And on that note, I think I’m done. I don’t think I have anything else for that letter writer. You take our last letter.
S4: Certainly the subject line is double down or cut and run. Dear Prudence, I love my husband. He is smart, funny and determined. He also has no self-confidence, worries a lot about what other people think and tells me. He is depressed. He will regularly drink until three a.m. alone and fall up the stairs and into the walls while blackout drunk on good days is fun and great. I’m bad days. He is short tempered, tells me he hates me, that he drinks because of me, and that I should try harder to please him. He thinks I make him feel small. He move cities to be with me when we were married and has never forgiven me for it. We tried counselling immediately following the birth of our daughter, but he quit after a couple of months because he thought it was too focused on him. Every six weeks we go through this pattern, starting with a good day and ending with him, sliding for moderate drinking into blackout binges. I love him. I’m committed to him. And I’ve wanted a second child for over a year. He vacillates between saying he wants another when we’re right and telling me he doesn’t and can’t believe I’m not happy with him. And our daughter. I am. But my heart. So ready for another. After a particularly bad event, he agreed to go on medication six months ago. He’s since quit twice, but he’s taking it again. I don’t know how to help him and he obviously does not want my help. I am so heartbroken. How does someone decide to finally cut and run? I’ve been ready to double down and work through this.
S5: But how? Whoo!
S3: Yeah, I know, um, I’ve been leading with a lot of strong opinions this day, so I’ll just stick to right now. I think now is a great time for you to cut and run. That’s where I’m coming from. Do you have any other thoughts on the on the question, Melissa? Yeah.
S4: Wow. He has had. I don’t want to say chances because this is something deep inside of him that somebody else cannot help with. Key. He has been through a lot. He feels a lot and doesn’t really want to deal with it, but also wants to put all of that on another person when it’s not your fault and it’s not something you’ve done to him. Yeah, I, I think you need to leave. He sounds. It sounds like he’s not going to make any changes and that they’re potentially dangerous. He’s falling up the stairs drunk. He blacks out repeatedly.
S8: This doesn’t really sound like a healthy partner to be with and that this person isn’t going to really help you if raising a child for a while because they need to be taken care of. I don’t know. I don’t know what resources you have for leaving, but it sounds like it’s time to start to gather those resources and think of your exit plan. Yeah. I don’t really think there’s there’s not really much more you can do. You’ve tried your best. Yeah. You know, I’ll throw on top of that that Alan on may be a useful resource for you.
S3: Cause, you know, I think some you will can get in this mindset of I love this person if they ever do successfully stop drinking. I don’t want to have left too soon. I don’t want to miss it. You know, and I feel like that’s part of the language of like, you know, every six weeks we go through this pattern. And like part of what this letter writer is saying without saying is like, I don’t want to walk away if the next cycle is gonna be the one that takes. And I just I would like to encourage you to be totally fatalistic about this, which is I don’t think my husband’s ever gonna stop drinking if he does ever stop drinking. It will be because his life looks so different from the way it looks right now. It will be unrecognizable to me. My asking him to get help is not working. Our child is not working. All the love and patients in the world is not working. I am not the cure for addiction. And in the meantime, my safety and my child’s safety are at risk, because when my husband is blackout drunk, he tells me that he hates me, that I don’t try hard enough to make him happy and that it’s my fault he drinks. And, you know, I don’t want to overstate potential harm. So I don’t mean to say that, like, that means the next thing that he’s going to do is attack you. But that’s laying the groundwork for additional forms of abuse and is itself real dangerous emotional abuse that’s designed to make you feel like you are the problem, that you’re his fault or that his behavior is your fault and that you don’t deserve to leave or to be treated differently. So that to me is like you can’t talk him out of that. That’s not just.
S1: Being drunk, I don’t wanna try to get into what can be separated out from his alcoholism and what cancel, I’ll just say, in addition to his blackout drinking, he is also verbally abusive towards you and tells you that you’re worthless and therapy and having a child together did not help. I think you can assume if you had a second child, he would continue to do this and that it would put you and your children in danger and that you deserve better than that and that you should leave him. And that, however smart and funny and determined he is, is great. And you can still esteem him for those things. But they are not reasons to stay married to someone who stumbles up the stairs and screams that he hates you while you’re trying to care for your child.
S5: Yeah, that’s a lot to deal with in an already difficult situation like raising children is hard and you have all of this on top of it. And I don’t want to project and say, like it sounds like you’re probably already the only parent. Because I don’t know. But if you are like, what are you really getting from this relationship?
S8: I think it’s the hope that things are gonna go back to the way that they used to be. And I think that that hope is going to keep you from doing the things that you need to do as long as you kind of carry a secret flame to it in your heart. And, you know, the fact that he’s depressed, that may very well be true, but he doesn’t tell you he hates you because he has no self-confidence. Like, I worry that you are projecting vulnerability onto something that cruelty better explains.
S5: Yeah, I feel like that really sums it up and your depression is not his fault. And you’ve sounds like you’ve done a lot to try to aid him. It’s not that you should be an enabler at this point. Yeah, you you need to leave.
S8: Yeah. And I think there’s that I think part of the desire to project the vulnerability there is because of how much she loves her husband. And I don’t doubt that.
S1: In certain ways, he loves you or has loved you in his life, but you should take him at his word when he says things like he hates you and he’s never forgiven you.
S6: I think you live with a man who hates you and has never forgiven you. And so as a result, asking, I don’t know what I can do to help is the wrong question. You can’t help him out of hating you. You can’t help him out of wanting to punish you. He wants to do those things.
S8: And all you can do in that instance is leave. But you can’t help him into not hating you. That’s too much a burden to place on yourself. You need to take your own safety and well-being and the safety and well-being of your child. Higher than his.
S1: Cruelty, violence, hate, resentment, desire to displace blame.
S3: So that’s a lot of different ways of saying, I think you should go, but I think if you go. Melissa, thank you so much for coming on the show today. This has just been fabulous.
S4: No problem. I’m glad I could be of help. I am, too, and I’m glad I got to hear your cats. Yeah, it’s almost dinnertime. So the talkative one is screaming.
S8: And Wolfley cats love nothing more than dinner at four thirty. I do too. Yeah, I’m not having it. Absolutely. I’m right there with you. Will have a wonderful time making supper for yourself and your cats. And I just hope you have a great or as great as possible rest of the day. Thank you so much again for making time for us. You’re welcome.
S9: Thanks for listening to Dear Prudence. Our producer is Phil Circus. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton. Don’t miss an episode of the show. Head to Slate dot com slash. Dear Prudence to subscribe. And remember, you can always hear more prudence by joining Slate plus the slate dot com slash pretty pod 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 two 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.
S3: To that end, they would encourage you if if you’re this concerned about your own health, I think it would also maybe be an opportunity to at least say, I hope you will reconsider having a gathering this big, you know, and maybe have like a little bit prepared about, like the ways in which a lot of state guidelines have been pressured to reopen, like, so that people can’t get unemployment or to protect business interests rather than because that’s what health experts have recommended. That might be helpful because a lot of people might just hear like, well, the state says it’s safe to listen to the rest of that conversation. Joint Slate plus now at Slate dot com forward slash Prudy pod.