S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you.
S2: Your freedom, your prudent effort here, prudent to be prudent here, prudent, do you think that I should contact him again? Help! Help! Thank you. Thank you.
S1: Hello and welcome back to The Dear Prudence Show once again, and as always, I am your host, Dear Prudence, also known as Daniel M. Lavery. With me in the studio this week is Shruti Swami, the author of the short story collection, A House is a Body and the recipient of two O’Henry awards. She lives in San Francisco. Shruti, welcome to the show.
S3: Thank you, Danny. I’m so happy to be here.
S1: I’m so glad that you’re here. And I. I was I was I was trying to fight this one, but I just can’t I can’t not fight it. Do you ever feel tempted to take your two O’Henry awards and have them offer one another gifts that they can no longer receive because they saw the thing that would have enabled them to get the gift?
S3: Well, no, if only they were physical. You know, they’re not even they don’t exist in a physical form except for the books themselves. So.
S1: Oh, I thought maybe there was a plaque.
S3: I know I’d be really nice if they’re bestowed upon me in that fashion, but they’re just they’re more of a ephemeral and abstract feeling. It’s more of a feeling than an award.
S1: I mean, that feels apropos to I just there’s there’s a handful of little phrases that I just say constantly. And one of them is, you know, Joan Fontaine’s. Oh, Maxim, aren’t we happy? I’m Rebecca Sidedly tremulous voice where, you know, you’re miserable. And then the other one is like, Jim, my hair grows awfully fast. And just that sort of like putting on a brave face just sold all my hair for three francs or whatever. And anyways, that’s just my way of letting you know. I know the one really famous O’Henry story.
S3: I appreciate that knowledge.
S1: I appreciate you. I’m so glad that you’re here. I’m excited. This is a really interesting mix of letters. And I got to say, I think our first one has the best subject I’ve seen in a while.
S3: Yeah, it is definitely a very attention grabbing subject.
S1: Memorable lingers in the in the mind.
S3: Well, the subject is my cat obsessed roommate is cock blocking me. Dear Prudence, when the stay at home orders first came down, my roommate and I got along great most nights. We cooked dinner together and we make great co-workers too. Right now, our cities outbreak is fairly under control. Testing is also widely available. So we’ve agreed to start having one guest over at a time pending negative test results. We don’t have many friends in common and I have more friends than my roommate in general. I was clear, I guess, with my roommate in advance and I don’t have more than one guest a week. Usually we hang out on the balcony outdoors. The problem comes when we want to go inside. My roommate will join us whenever this happens, but she doesn’t pick up on cues that I want to be alone with my friend. For example, she’ll come into our living room to say hello. But instead of asking my friend how they’re doing or joining our conversation, she’ll divert attention to our cat trying to get my friend to pet it. She’ll even go so far as to put our cat into a friend’s lap when we’re sitting on the couch in the middle of a personal conversation. She even did this when I had someone over that she knew I had a crush on. We were really hitting it off and she handed him some catnip and encouraged him to play with the cat. Nothing sexy was going to happen after that. In the past, my roommates admitted to being jealous of my close friendships and getting increasingly irritated because I don’t get to spend much alone time with my friends. I want to ask my roommate to give my friends and me some space when they come to visit. But because we plan to live together for a while for the foreseeable future, I don’t know how to ask her how to be less awkward when I have friends here without hurting her feelings.
S1: Does this to you rise to the standard of cockblock?
S3: Yeah, that was something that really stood out to me, actually, because I was like I mean, it’s admittedly been a while since the days of courtship, the era of courtship in my life. But I did feel that, like, kind of hitting it off with somebody and like and you’re kind of like vibing with each other, whatever. It’s like not every single thing needs to be, like, perfectly lined up, like a little like strand of dominos in order for things like keep going well between you and like getting to the next level or whatever. Like you can kind of roll with some of that stuff or some of that can just be kind of funny and awkward and sweet and you can keep going.
S1: Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to like reach back too far into, like, you know, my my whole, I don’t know, bachelor’s degree in lesbianism or whatever. But like if somebody’s handing you some catnip and saying, hey, meet our cat is like, oh God, how could we ever have sex after that? Like I don’t want to be dismissive, but it’s just like, do you know any lesbians? Because that’s not it’s not just a joke or just a stereotype. I just like I’m kind of amazed at the thought of like, man, my roommate told this guy that we have a pet and he had a pleasant interaction with a cat. Obviously, we’re not going to fuck after that. It’s just like I’m not following.
S3: Yeah, I had the exact same thought with that. Yeah.
S1: To me, this is like maybe some of this is plausibly deniable, passive aggression. But honestly, you just haven’t said anything to your roommate. You’re like, oh, she doesn’t understand my hence obviously, you know, what on earth do I do next? It’s like you just say something like that’s that’s what roommates do. If you want to let your roommate know that you’re going to have someone over later and at a certain point you’re either going to give your roommate a signal to make themselves scarce or you’re just going to say, like, we’re going to head into my room now, have a great rest of the night. Just do that. Just tell your roommate that you’ll be outside for a while, then you’ll come in your chat and then you’re going to go and be alone again, like she’s clearly fine leaving you alone on the balcony. I really don’t think that your roommate is trying to keep you from spending time alone with your guests. I think you just you’ve wanted hints to do the work of clarity. They didn’t. So now just say, I want to go be alone with this guy. When he comes over later tonight, I’m either going to use a code word or just say, hey, we’re going to head into the bedroom, right?
S3: Yeah. I was also sort of like it seemed like maybe the common space is sort of like a ambiguous area where it doesn’t seem like necessarily if you were going to be there in there with your roommate, that that would be like, oh, obviously. Or if you were going to be in there with a gas like, oh, obviously, we just want to be alone, even though we’re in the common area. And the same way that you have your room if you want to. I mean, maybe I feel like a very small room. I can imagine where I would be like, hey, do you want to go to my bedroom now? Might be kind of different. I can feel a little college join me.
S1: But if you cannot get past that in order to make the move, I, I think that’s your real problem is like you don’t know how to close a deal, you know, you don’t know how to move from. We’re both dropping a lot of hints. But at some point someone’s going to have to say something like, I have a body and I would like to have sex and you got to be able to do it. Like especially because there’s a thing of like my roommate joins us when we come inside, but then she doesn’t pick up on cues that I want to be alone with my friend. Then the next paragraph goes on to not list any cues that you want to be alone. Right. Do you really mean like it’s like she’ll come into the room and say hi, but instead of asking my friend how they’re doing, she’ll say, hey, did you notice we have a cat? OK, that’s mildly annoying. If you want to tell your roommate, hey, don’t put the cat in people’s laps when they come over, let them either decide to pet it or not. Fine, do it. Or if you want to be like, hey, I’d appreciate it if you’d ask my guests how they’re doing before you draw their attention to the cat. It’s not this awful thing, like maybe she just doesn’t know how to do icebreakers and she feels like a cat is a really neutral way of joining a conversation. It’s not evil or wrong or selfish. It’s just not really working for you. You know, either say something or don’t if she’s making the conversation too much about the cat and just say, OK, love the cat. But let’s get back to our conversation about whatever we were talking about. All of this is incredibly fixable. If you just open your mouth and say things like, we’re done with the cat, we’re going to go, hey, do you want to hook up? Hey, I’m bringing someone over later. We want to talk for a little while, but then I’m going to want to fuck them. All of these are sentences, you can say.
S3: Yeah, absolutely. I also just yeah. Just to maybe echo that a little bit, I feel like there’s maybe a reading in of nefarious intention in this letter where the letter writer says, like, she’s gotten admitted to being jealous of my close friendships or even like using the word cock blocking that I don’t think needs to be ascribed to the roommate’s actions, like whether or not that’s there, that they really are actively cock blocking you or are trying to like horn in on some one on one time because they’re jealous of you. It’s it probably seems like it’ll be more helpful to the situation if you just assume they’re not doing that. But they just have no idea because you didn’t tell them and go from there rather than be like, oh, my scheming, jealous roommate.
S1: Yeah. You’ve literally never asked your roommate outright for some space, so try that. And you don’t need to ask her to, quote unquote, be less awkward. Frankly, I think you’re contributing at least a third, if not half. It may very well be 50/50 because you act like, you know, if the guy that you’re interested in pets, your cat, that you’re just going to you know, you wash your hands and you and you change the subject like it’s very easy to both have a pet and want to sleep with people, people to it a lot. I just don’t I don’t understand why you feel like all the awkwardness is coming from your roommate when you just apparently can’t even bring yourself to say something like him. Having a guest over tonight. Love to catch up with you for 15 minutes in the common room. But then afterwards, we’re going to want to hang out in my bedroom. Totally ordinary, banal conversation to get to have, especially with someone you apparently get along great with the rest of the time.
S3: Right? I think there’s a lot of room. Maybe people sometimes feel like we’re getting along great. There’s no room, there’s no room in this relationship to have conversations that make me feel slightly uncomfortable. But I would just tell the letter writer there’s lots of room and it seems like there’s a lot of room in this relationship for this level of discomfort and not for nothing.
S1: You know, the phrase cock blocking more often than not, not not always, but more often than not, refers to a dynamic where somebody is being hit on or pursued in a way that makes them feel really uncomfortable and also in such a way that they feel like if I directly say no, this guy is going to push or escalate or get aggressive.
S4: So I’m going to deploy a friend to help me like most of the time. Again, not trying to make universally, most of the time, cock blocking is like a friend helping you out and it’s something that you asked for. And so the idea of like, oh, I’m this must be cock blocking. It’s like I don’t think that’s what it is. I think your roommate just. Doesn’t know how to read your mind and you don’t tell us what the clues you’re dropping are, so, you know, you’re calling something blocking when I think it’s actually a little bit something else. It’s just a pretty friendly roommate who occasionally is straightforward about feeling jealousy, but doesn’t like attempt to deploy that jealousy through, as you say, nefarious schemes. They’re just like, hey, what’s up?
S1: Yeah, all right, I’ve been hard enough on this letter writer, I’m done, I’m sure you’re also fine. I just have no patience for problems that I had in my own life like seven years ago. You know, those are always the questions where I’m just like, get over it. Deal with it. Figure it out. Like I said, it’s a lot. I used to be like when I lived with these people and we talk all the time, but I never, ever want to say anything directly to any of them. And for some reason, that’s not working. Whose fault is this?
S3: Yeah, well, and it’s just like it’s OK, it’s not that scary. Just just do it one time and you’ll learn that it’s not that scary to have these kinds of conversations, like, totally fine to have them.
S1: Yeah, man, that genre of question, which is like I’m incredibly close with this person, but the idea of making a single direct request of them will make me die just like then. I think part of what you consider closeness may in fact be avoidance. And you can keep the closeness and ditch the avoidance and you will be OK. And I’m really done. I know I said I was done five times, but I’m really, really, really done. And I’m going to read the next letter to prove it. Subject is I don’t care. Dear Prudence, I’m the only single person I know I generally enjoy being single and don’t have any desire to date, but it gets annoying to be excluded from couples events hosted by my friends. On top of that, all my friends and family who are married or in committed relationships only want to talk about their significant others. It’s extremely frustrating. I’ve tried branching out, meeting other people, but the second these people start dating someone, I’m either dropped completely and blown off with their partner or we do spend time together, but they spend the whole time talking about the relationship. How do I politely tell my friends and family to shut up? Well, yeah, I, um, I hear a lot from single people who experience various forms of grief or sadness or feeling deep, prioritized or pushed out. There was a slightly different tone here, which was like the second any friend you’ve ever made starts dating someone else. They drop you completely or you get together and they don’t even talk about a movie they’ve seen recently. They just talk about their partner for three hours. I feel like. Something could be done here with this letter writers expectations. Does that feel fair to you? Do you think I’m just being sassy because I’m sleep deprived and I’m not giving letter writers enough of the benefit of the doubt today?
S3: Yeah, I mean, I have friends who are single and I’m also I’m not single and I feel like we talk about lots of different things besides my relationship. So it is possible to have friends who I don’t think that necessarily the problem is that as like single people and non single people can be can’t be friends. So there does seem like maybe there’s something else going on.
S1: Yeah, certainly it’s possible for someone to be involved in a group dynamic where a lot of people do something shitty. I don’t mean to say if you experience something frequently, obviously the only common denominator is you and it must be your fault. And I totally, totally understand why it would feel frustrating if your friends were often hosting couples only events. That’s genuinely shitty. And I’m truly sorry. I hope that you can express them. That’s frustrating and that you would like to be included. And then if they don’t give you anything on that to feel it, or I might not want to spend as much time with them, that would make sense to me. Only, you know, if you’re rounding up a little bit when you say all of my married friends only ever want to talk about their partner, like, does that include like if they’re telling you an anecdote and they happen to include their partner because they live together, that you’re like, oh, they’re just talking about their partner. Like, do you put that in the same category as like she won’t shut up about, like, his hair care routine. And I’m sick of it because those two things strike me as pretty different. And it might be worth attempting to separate out stuff that anecdotally or incidentally, refers to their partner because they live together or stuff. That’s like all they want to talk about is the various colors in his eyes when he stands in the moonlight.
S3: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s really perceptive that there might be that there’s a way where the letter writer is just so sensitized to this topic of conversation that it’s it’s just looming really large, even when there’s other things going on that makes a lot of sense to me.
S4: Yeah. And absolutely, I will pull back on the kind of snarky ness at this point. And I will just say you’re the only person you know who is single. That’s hard. That’s really, really hard. And you’re often excluded from events that are just for couples. And that’s really hard to. And I hear that. And that makes sense to me that that would feel frustrating and painful.
S1: And I I think they’re my best advice would be you say you enjoy being single and don’t have a desire to date. So, again, I’m not saying like go run out, grab yourself an identity label and and say this is my thing. You don’t have to do that. But I would I would encourage you to seek out friendships specifically with people who, for one reason or another, have arranged their lives around something that is not being in a romantic relationship. And again, that doesn’t mean you should only go be friends with asexual, romantic people who are also committed to never dating even a little bit. But there are lots of different people, some of whom may fall into those categories who aren’t just incidentally single, but who are committed to organising their lives and their relationships around something other than romantic pairings. That may also, by the way, include people who are, you know, in open relationships. And I don’t just mean like any sleazy person, you know, who’s like I sometimes cheat on my partner, but like people who are genuinely committed to dating multiple people, having lots of different relationships at once, not having all of those relationships be like strictly romantic or purely platonic. And I guess just what I’m saying is look for people who are not monogamously pairing off and for whom that is a value and not simply a thing that accidentally happened. And those may be some of the places that you can find the most fruitful grounds for friendship.
S3: Yeah. Or even like if you have an interest that you can explore in, like a you know, like if you love hiking or reading or whatever, you know, that you can join a group that’s focused around that to meet people so that the friendship that you’re making, whether or not that person is single, is as focused on a shared interest from the get go so that that other part of your life might come up, but it’s not going to be the center of the relationship.
S4: Yeah, but, you know, this is like several different ways of addressing this, which one of which is like if your friend has truly just gone on for forty five minutes, not sharing, but their partner, just say something. I mean be a little polite, but just say I would love to talk about something that’s not a romantic relationship right now. Can we do that. That’s a reasonable request to make of a friend. Oh absolutely. If you need to tell them to shut up, you can tell them I would love to talk about something else rather than shut up. It’s also a good moment to kind of reassess. Am I doing this for any mention of a partner? Are there opportunities for me to revise my expectations? And then in addition to that, because I don’t think you should just dump all your friends and family now and go look for people who are committed to the single life, but also seek out people who don’t just happen to be single or don’t just happen to be not in a committed romantic relationship, but for whom. That’s something that they’re thinking about a lot. They organize a lot of their emotional and social life around and who maybe even really excited about it. That would be cool. I hope that for you. I want that for you. And now I feel a little silly because I just realized I followed this up immediately with a wedding question.
S3: It’s my turn, OK, the subject is yet another wedding conundrum. Dear Prudence, a close friend of 20 years decided to postpone, has 150 guests summer wedding, but only rescheduled it for this October. The bride’s family will be flying in from a state where cases are surging and regulations are lax. I know that her relatives are not taking social distancing seriously. I have a pre-existing condition and I do not want to risk getting sick. I’m also in the wedding party. You’re probably thinking if you’ve been friends for so long, why not crack open a beer on Zoome? Not that beer and chat about it. Sadly, it seems that most of the wedding party members do not share my concerns and my lone vote could damage our friendship. How can I handle this in a tactful way?
S1: Maybe it’s just that I’m very sleepy and maybe it’s this that I’ve been sober for too long, but what is what does this literally mean by not that beer? Is there a beer called Zoome?
S3: I don’t know. Maybe there is. I was wondering that as well.
S1: It sounded like they were worried, like, don’t worry, it’s not the Zoome beer and. And I feel like I’ve just missed something about an important beer development.
S3: Well, maybe there’s maybe there’s a joke. There’s a very clever joke. That’s just a cultural reference that you and I both don’t have.
S1: I just Googled Zoon Beer Zoome Beer by venture Braco controversy brews nice over beer drinking during Zoome school school board president apologized for drinking beer. Nine Zoome backgrounds for your next drinking digital, the. This is not helpful is a mystery. It is a mystery. Anyways, let’s get back to the question at hand. Yeah, I feel like I’m getting a lot of these things where, like, people are like, OK, we rescheduled something that was supposed to happen at the beginning of summer and that’s a couple of months later.
S4: And nothing’s changed that much in terms of the risks. But everyone’s sort of losing their composure and their ability to social distance either because, you know, they’re getting. Just absolutely stir crazy or because they’re getting conflicting advice from various. Institutions and authorities or because they’re going to run out of money because they can’t work anymore and it’s just sort of like, let’s just do it in October. What are you going to do? Yeah, which I wish I had a great answer to.
S3: Right. I know. Like, don’t worry, in October, everything’s going to be fine. I felt like this actually was very similar to the first question in terms of I am in an uncomfortable situation. I have a very close relationship with this person. However, if I express I, however, there doesn’t seem to be any room in this friendship for me to express a very plain and reasonable boundary. So is there a do you have a way to neutralize all the discomfort I’m feeling while still I mean, like setting this boundary? And the answer to me seems to be, yeah, you just got to tell your friend.
S4: Yeah. And, you know, if you’re worried about having to also try to litigate, by the way, I also think your relatives are. Being irresponsible and you feel like that would be pushing it just in terms of the emotional tenor of the conversation, I get it. You don’t you don’t have to have all of that conversation at once. But, my goodness, you have a preexisting condition and you just want to say to your friend, I love you so much, I would give anything to safely be at your wedding. I can’t if there’s still not a vaccine, I cannot fly out of state to be around one hundred and fifty other people, most of whom have not been socially distancing, which, again, you don’t have to deliver as a moral judgment. And it’s just true. I can’t risk my health. And that’s the point. You just stress you don’t like hammer at home or like turn over a bunch of medical documents, but you just got to make it really clear, like I cannot risk my health like that. And man, if your friend doesn’t at least pretty quickly walk around to. That’s really, really sad, but of course, I don’t want you to risk your health either. I just really hope your friend doesn’t do that to you. But oh, man, if they do, then, you know, I don’t want you to damage your health to avoid damaging the friendship.
S3: Right. I mean, it just right. Exactly. Like your your health and safety is absolutely like there’s is no contest like that is the number one priority. And I would also say that it’s it seems like most of the wedding party members do not share your concerns, but you haven’t necessarily voiced your concerns either. Like you don’t know who else might be like, oh, I guess it’s OK with everybody else that I’m feeling uncomfortable about this. And just being able to express that might also give other people permission or just feeling a little bit more confident to also look out for themselves, too.
S1: And you know what? That’s a good point, because I realized when I was rereading this question, I almost wonder if the person who wrote this is putting a little more pressure on themselves than they need to because it felt a little bit like their thinking. I need to convince my friend to convince all 150 of their guests to social distance appropriately. And then I can think about going to the wedding. Rather than I need to tell my friend, I can’t go. And boy, oh, boy, if that is what you were thinking, give yourself the gift of giving that up, that’s never going to happen.
S4: They don’t say that, like, lightly or to dismiss it. It’s just impossible. You could not possibly verify that on one hundred and fifty of these people would go from not taking social distancing very seriously to following it strictly enough that they could somehow all converge upon this same state safely, like don’t. You can’t do that, your job is just to tell your friend, I love you so much, but unless there is a vaccine out on September 15th, I will have to zoom into the wedding and we need to talk about that. It is a health issue. If it were not a health issue, I would move heaven and earth to be there. But it is. And that’s all you got to do, and I really hope your friend is just obliging patient understanding. Flexible and maybe reconsiders. One hundred and fifty guest wedding in October. Yeah, but you sound tactful in this letter. You sound like a tactful person.
S3: Yeah, yeah. I also wonder if maybe there’s a way for you to say something like I’d love to make I mean, not make it up to you, but maybe there’s something you could do to celebrate with your friend that won’t make it up or be the same, but could be like but I am I would love to like have this distance to hang out with you and come see you in that way or something just to like offer some other way to celebrate, of course, to express like I’m not trying to get out of it or avoid you.
S4: I love you. I want to celebrate you. I want to find a way to celebrate you that doesn’t involve risking my health. That, of course, you can do. And I think I often encourage people to do that, not because they have to make up not attending, but because they genuinely want to celebrate. So right there with you, I think that’s great. But just have the conversation now. Don’t wait until September and just tell them what you told us, which is that you can’t risk your health. And unless your friend is just. Really losing touch with reality or compassion, I think even if they’re disappointed, they’re going to get it. And with that, we should move on, because I think I’m at that point, we were talking earlier about how neither you nor I slept well last night, and I’m just at that stage of sleep deprivation where I’m just like.
S3: Have we been talking with us for two minutes or for like a year, trapped inside of a crystal together, just like I do know, times of fractal now, it’s like that’s like an afternoon that you haven’t haven’t slept the night before. That’s what it feels like.
S4: As soon as we get off, as soon as we stop recording, I’m going to become the most asleep. Person that there ever was great, just Godspeed. Thank you. All right. All right, the next one so I can go to B dreams subject.
S3: Should I see the same therapist as my crush? Dear Prudence, I have had severe anxiety and depression for my entire life, which I got under control on my own. After a traumatic first experience with therapy last year, I moved and finally found a therapist who was nice but just didn’t really work for me. After taking a break, I realized that I really need to start again. I’ve decided that this time I want an LGBT therapist. My city isn’t small, but there aren’t many out therapists and only one who takes my insurance. I think we would be a great fit, but I think this is the same therapist my friend Krush sees based on certain details my friend has shared. I don’t think it would affect me in my sessions, but part of why I want to resume seeing a therapist is so that I can talk about this crush. I don’t know if that would put the therapist in uncomfortable position. I’m also worried about my friend finding out and feeling uncomfortable or thinking I sought out her therapist on purpose. Part of me just wants to ask my friend how she would feel, but I worry that that would be intrusive. I would be willing to go to another therapist out of network and pay more, but I’ll be kicked off my parents insurance in a year and most likely will be on Medicaid. So it might become too expensive. I don’t want to have to switch to a different therapist a year from now. Should I just go to someone straight and in network, even if I’m not as excited about them? Is it not actually a big deal?
S4: Usually get it started because I did not shut up on the last one.
S3: OK, well, I don’t think it’s a big deal, actually. Well, I guess I have two thoughts. And one of them is that I do think that somebody who’s sensitive to LGBT issues is really important, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that a straight therapist couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t be a good therapist for you. But I also think that I think it’s probably fine to see this therapist. Maybe if you’re feeling uncomfortable about it, you could just tell your tell your friend’s crush and not everything about but not everything about what you told us. But just that you, you know, just talking about your your your search to find a therapist and how difficult it’s been for you and how they see this therapist you think might be a really good fit for you just to give them a head, not even to ask permission, but just to give them a heads up on it so that they don’t find out in another weird way. Or you’re in a situation where like what? We have the same therapist like that’s so crazy. And I think the therapists have multiple clients who know each other. That’s like part of I think that that’s part of practicing therapy, especially in small towns. That’s pretty normal. So I think that a professional therapist would be able to handle that. That’s not like a conflict of interest.
S4: Yeah, I mean, the nice thing is that a small town therapist and especially a therapist who specializes in LGBT issues, patients, etc., they’re both going to know they will have this will have come up before, like they will absolutely come up before the like, you know, where do I draw the line in terms of treating people who may already know one another? And yeah, I think that’s fine. I definitely think it makes sense to me that somebody would want an out therapist. That part of what would be important there is just having that shared experience. There’s at least some level of feeling like you don’t have to explain some things that you would rather just have understood and that that’s a guarantee, actually.
S1: But I think that’s a totally legitimate desire. But yeah, I think all you got to do is mention to the therapist, I think you already treat a friend of mine. I want to let you know so that you can make a decision. I don’t know if you policy. It’s my understanding. And tell me tell me if this is yours, too, that lots of therapists who just treat individuals rather than like marriage and family therapists might turn down a patient who is, say, a direct relative or a partner of a pre-existing patient, but but would have a lot of discretion, I think, to be able to decide whether to people who are friends would would be manageable for them to maintain boundaries with.
S3: Oh, yeah. I anecdotally know of this situation happening in many different ways. I have many anecdotal situations. This has happened in my life or in the life of my friends. So I know that this is like a situation that’s very workable for some therapists at. Right.
S4: And yes, I’ll just say, like the therapist might, I think probably they’ll say, thanks for letting me know. I’m comfortable treating you both. I’ll do whatever I need to do internally to to maintain some sort of a firewall between you. We’re certainly not going to make the therapist uncomfortable like your job is to think about relationships and to establish boundaries between like what are relationships between my patients that they may have either before or during or after I treat them and where my ethical boundaries. So it’s not like you’re going to bring up saying that the therapist like, oh, my God, I’ve never run into this before. This puts me in such a pickle. I’m in trouble. Like your therapist will have been in this sort of position before. And again, if they treat queer people, my guess is they’ve treated more than one patient was like, so I’m in love with one of your other patients.
S1: We’re also best friends. We also live together. I’ll never tell that like they’re used to messiness, right?
S3: Yeah. And I don’t think you ever have to. I mean, within reason, I guess. But it it’s OK to not feel responsible for your therapist feelings or their feelings of discomfort. I mean, obviously, I guess there are some situations where like if you’re really crossing a boundary, that might not be true. But in general, it’s like unlike with another kind of relationship, like a friend, you don’t need to really worry about taking care of their feelings. That’s there are professionals and that’s what they’re good at doing for themselves.
S4: Yeah, I think the only other thing that I want to add to this is I think somebody who takes your insurance is pretty crucial. Like if you actually just have a lot of spare cash and you’re willing to pay more. Maybe look for somebody out of network, but if it’s more like I could technically afford it, but it would be a big part of my monthly budget, say that as a last resort. And then beyond that, you know, you can bring it up with your friend. But you also have to remember, like, your therapist is not going to be passing information along. You could be talking about this crush, you know, every week till the cows come home and your therapist’s not going to be passing that information along to another patient. So if your friend’s just uncomfortable with the idea of having the same therapist, you know, I guess give them room to say so before you make the decision. But I if you’re close. I don’t know. I don’t know the one thing that I will say is it could potentially down the road be a hindrance to your growth if either your friend says, I don’t return your feelings and we need to cool off on our friendship. If if part of you felt like continuing to see the same therapist was a way that you had of kind of keeping that ball rolling, you’re keeping that torch burning that could potentially at some later date prove a hindrance to your growth. That’s worth considering.
S3: If you’re like if there’s some part of you that’s like trying to connect with your crush by seeing the same therapist, then that’s maybe something to think about.
S4: Right. And you say, I don’t think it would affect me in my sessions. Fair. Maybe it won’t, but. It also might add, and if you’re partly going to therapy, just because you really need to talk about this crash. You might want for yourself to find somebody who has no connection with that person because, again, not because it would be too hard for the therapist and not because it would make your friend feel weird, but because it might inhibit your own ability to. Move on. But we don’t know, maybe you two will end up getting together and it’ll be great and then you can see the same therapist as a couple.
S3: Yeah, that would be the best case scenario. Yeah, yeah. Builtin couples counselor if you ever need it. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. OK, let’s let’s move on to our last question, which I think is going to have a nice short answer, which is nice because I’ve been giving a lot of long answers today. You ready. Ready to take us on. Yeah, I think I mean, I have to read it because it’s my turn, but yes, I’m ready to get out of here and nap. OK, subject my white friend talks a lot. Dear Prudence, I’m friends with someone I care a lot about but who also exhausts me. They have a tendency to talk a lot about themselves and their interests without asking questions of others. They also have a habit of steering conversations back to themselves and have gotten upset at me when I hang out with other friends and don’t invite them. When I pointed out their social calendar wasn’t just my responsibility, they said they had a right to express when they felt hurt. Seemed like a reasonable boundary to me, but they experienced is dismissive. Over the years, I think I’ve realized why this person struggles to maintain long term friendships. They’re kind of controlling and emotionally demanding. They want to frequent long, deep discussions about their values, which I find draining. I’ve been pulling away, but that makes me feel guilty. I know they often feel isolated and hurt by the loss of other friendships. I think a lot about our lopsided dynamic and how it’s influenced by their whiteness.
S4: I’m a person of color. Is it OK for me to just back away?
S3: Yeah, yeah, this might have a one word answer. I mean, yeah, sure, you don’t have to be friends with them. Yeah. They sound like a lot. Yeah, I mean, I do think that it’s worth like some like you were friends with them for a reason maybe, and you can kind of like, hold that in your heart and maybe you want some time away from them right now. And maybe that reason that you were friends with them in the first place was so compelling that you will return to this friendship when you guys are in different places in your life and you’ll be able to come at it from a new angle. You might be able to express boundaries better. This person might be able to receive those expressions of boundaries better. But it’s it’s also possible that that won’t happen. And that’s OK. You don’t have to be friends with them if you’re if you’re finding them exhausting.
S1: Yeah. Yeah. You have so many options here. Like you can fight with your friend about it. You can back off. You can.
S4: Do both. You know, I agree that anyone who gets upset with you and you like. You know, get coffee with someone else that they know and you didn’t invite them, is a person who is trying to make way too many of their own internal feelings your problem? It’s not a great sign and your friend, you know. I’m sorry they struggle to maintain friendships, and I’m sorry that they feel sad when other people don’t want to be friends with them, but if their only solution to that sadness is I force people to apologize to me when they go to dinner with other people, and I demand that they talk to me for hours about only stuff that I care about. And I don’t listen or ask questions like they should feel isolated and hurt until they learn.
S3: Yes. So you could just tell them. You could tell them I want to break or I don’t want to be friends with them anymore. Or I guess you could just kind of gently stop responding to their their reach, their texts or whatever it’s or you could write. You’ve actually already said all that to any and you could fight with them if you want. Just have a big dramatic blow out and tell them exactly what you think. You’ve lots of options. Yeah.
S4: Or just like I don’t want to have a long conversation right now about this thing. You don’t reciprocate this or just like I’m not available for this right now. All that’s fine. There’s so many options in between big eight hour confrontation. And I go see you tomorrow. We never talk about it again. But no, you don’t have to, like, convince this person to change their life, you don’t have to, like, make a 20 hour case for what they need to change for you to keep being friends with them if they are just like wiping you out of your life. We will talk later and then later is after I’m dead. That’s about just loud.
S3: Yeah, yeah. And I, I just you can let go of your feelings of guilt. Your job right now is to take care of yourself. It’s a hard it’s hard time right now. So take care of yourself. And it’s like.
S1: Yeah, like if this person listened, it would be a totally different question, right, because then you’d be like, well, we can talk about something here, but it’s like part of the reason that you’re like God, the idea of trying to talk about this is exhausting is because they don’t listen. Right. So I don’t want you to be too mad at yourself or too upset or disappointed.
S4: It’s like, oh, but I never give them the chance to have another exhausting, draining conversation where they didn’t listen to me because it’s like, you know, what they do during conversations, which is not listen.
S3: Right, sometimes you wind up doing a lot of work, taking care of people, and then when you decide to not do that anymore, then they make you feel guilty about it because you’ve been in this weird delusion like it’s your job to take care of them and then but it’s not your job, so you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
S4: It’s always sad, I think, when a friendship gets to that point, because so much of friendship is not about like keeping score or what have you done for me lately or quid pro quo. So I always feel sort of sad that so many of the friendship questions I get are already at the point of, you know, you kind of got to fish or cut bait here because I feel like it makes it sound like I have this really transactional idea of friendship, but. It really is only when things have been stretched to the breaking point, I think that people start keeping score and I think they start, you know, listing grievances in their letters to me, because I think normally most people have a pretty good intuitive sense of like, you know, you give me something, I give you something.
S1: I help you out here. You help me out there. It doesn’t have to be exactly 50 50 every day.
S3: Oh, yeah. And people definitely go through periods of like I’m going through an especially hard time right now and I need a lot right now. And that’s just like we’ve built up this relationship. We have this understanding. You at any point can tell me I love you and I can’t give that to you right now. And that’s OK with me. But, you know, there are you know, there are the friendship balance is always recalibrating. So there’s somebody who sometimes needs more than somebody else. And you just know over the course of like a strong, healthy friendship that the balance might swing the other way where you’re really there for that person when they and that the relationship is all about them for for a little while when they’re having a hard time. So there is always some natural give and take in in any friendship. But this feels like extremely one sided for an extremely long time.
S1: Yeah. Do you have before we head out for the day and I just sleep for a thousand years. So any kind of general thoughts either for the sort of collective group of letter writers that we had today or just anyone in general who’s afraid to, you know, talk to their friends or say no to somebody? And any parting thoughts?
S3: Hmmm. Well. Yeah, I just think that people can can express what they want to express to people and trust if they’re doing it in a way where there were love and respect is at the core is the intention and is at the front of what they’re saying, that they should feel free to express what they need to express and ask for what they want out of relationships. And that could even be I don’t want to see you anymore, that it’s OK to do that and to take that kind of that take that kind of space. And that can even be like a way of giving respect to your friend or the person that you’re in relation with to express what you want lovingly and respectfully.
S4: Yeah. And you can even just survive like a really uncomfortable last conversation I haven’t had to do. Are many formal friend breakup’s, but I do remember one that was, you know, was just uncomfortable. It was in a coffee shop. I was like, I didn’t know how to end a conversation if I wasn’t getting agreement from the other person. And so I just finally was like, well, that’s that’s how I feel about it.
S1: Like that’s where my that’s where my line is. And, you know, like, OK, but like, they clearly didn’t agree with me. And I was like, I guess I’ll just go and, you know, just like it’s OK. It was unpleasant. There was a lot of sadness in the loss of the friendship. And and it was also just like, OK, I just said something. I didn’t say it perfectly. They didn’t listen to most of it. So it doesn’t really matter that I didn’t say it perfectly. And then I felt sad and upset for a while. And when I think about it, I still feel sad and upset. But it also I got what I needed, which was I got to get out of that friendship that was not working out at all. And I learned that I can survive even a conversation that’s unpleasant and uncomfortable and where I feel like I’m losing my one job, which is to convince someone that I’m doing the right thing.
S3: Right. And I’m right that there’s like we’re so scared of discomfort with people. Sometimes that will do so many other things, will swallow so much resentment just to not have that conversation. But those can be really relationship saving or just self saving conversations to have to if you’re not afraid of being a little bit uncomfortable.
S1: Shruti, thank you so much for coming on the show. And forgive both my extreme sleepiness and also a tendency to let the laptop fall slowly down my body throughout this conversation.
S3: Danny was a pleasure.
S5: 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 dotcom. Dear Prudence, to subscribe and remember, you can always hear more prudence by joining Slate. Plus go to sleep. Com. 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. Thirty seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening.
S1: And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday.
S4: I definitely want to try to reassure the letter writer that, like, you have not been living a lie. This is not like, oh, my gosh, you fabricated, you know, two decades worth of work experience that you don’t have. Like you were four credits shy of graduation. You tried really hard. You had one course that knocked you back. Which is not to say I think that you should say that you graduated. I think the risk there is way too high. You’ve gotten lucky because other employers have not double checked.
S1: All it takes is one, and you never know when it’s going to come. So if you keep doing it, maybe you’ll get away with it, but you won’t know until you die. You know that you’ve fully got away with it. To listen to the rest of that conversation, join Slate plus now at Slate dot com forward slash Prudy Pod.