The “Is This Work-Related?” Edition

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

S2: Jeopardize your prudence here, prudence, the epitome of prudence here. Do you think that I should contact him again? No help. Thank thank. Thank you.

S3: Hello and welcome back to the Dear Prudence podcast once again, and as always, I am your host, Dear Prudence, also known as Daniel M. Levy. With me in the studio this week is Kristen Mainzer, a culture critic, podcast host and author who currently hosts the podcasts Movie Therapy with Rafer and Kristen and the podcast by the book. Her books include So You Want to Start a podcast, How to Be Fine, co-written with Jolanta Greenberg and Return to Intercourse and Amish romance. She was named a 20 20 Woman of the Year by the Women’s Center in Washington, D.C.. Kristen, welcome to the show. Danny, I’m so excited to be back. Thank you for having me. I am just thrilled to have you here. I have enjoyed being on your show. We met just like a month before the pandemic started. And so it was this great, you know, how like all those little various friendships that are sort of popping up in life all the time and you’re like, oh, I’m looking forward to getting to know someone better. And then just this last year, everything went on hold. This was not by any means one of the biggest problems of twenty twenty. But I was like I had so many people I just met and wanted to see a second time. And now it’s just I’ll see you someday.

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S4: Well, I love seeing you on the zoom screen, so at least that’s something. But yeah, I feel the same way. I was like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe you moved to Brooklyn. We need to hang out. Oh, we’re all on lockdown.

S3: I saw somebody tweet the other day, something like, all right, for every one of my acquaintances that I was just about to upgrade into friendship before this started. I’m holding you in my heart. Stay ready for me like I’m coming for you later. And I thought that was a really lovely, lovely gesture. Yes. I sign on to that also. I second that whoever set that, whoever said it, you’re great. And I hope that I was on your list, too, because clearly it’s not someone I remember well enough that I’m like, oh yeah, my dear friend, at any rate, we have a lot of very intense letters today and I hope that we can be at least moderately useful to most of them. And if you would be so good as to read our first letter, we’re just going to dive into it.

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S4: Yes, I would love to. The subject is, should I go to the wedding? Dear Prudence, one of my best friends is marrying her abusive partner at some undetermined date once it is safe to hold the wedding. I know I can’t talk my friend into breaking up with her partner, though. I try to be supportive and validate her feelings when she tells me about the way she is treated. She wants me to serve as her maid of honor and give a speech at the wedding. I feel nervous that attending the wedding will be an endorsement of an unsafe relationship, but I don’t want to hurt her. Her relationship has already isolated her from most other people she was close to. I feel like there is no good option here.

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S1: I really understand why this letter writer feels like there is no good option here. Oh, yeah, I agree.

S5: Yes. And I got to say, I’ve been on both sides of the Stani. Unfortunately, I have I have been the person with the abusive partner and I’ve had friends with abusive partners. And regardless of what position you’re in, it just completely sucks. It sucks to be the bystander who has to hear the stories over and over again. It sucks to be the person who is, you know, knowing you’re in a bad situation and trying to leave and going back and trying to leave and going back if that’s what you’re doing or just staying there when you know that maybe it’s not the best for you regardless. It sucks either way.

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S1: Yeah, I do think that the letter writers awareness of I cannot control this situation. I cannot make my friend break up with her partner. I think that’s true. And I also think that’s a useful limit to have in mind when you consider what are my options. So that’s a good place to start. Where would you say would be the line, Kristen, that you think would be the most important to try to thread here? What do you think? What do you think should be the sort of hope?

S5: Well, I hope that you can be somebody who reminds your friend over and over and over again that she is strong, that you believe in her, that she’s capable of taking care of herself, that she’s capable of doing what’s best for her future, and that you’ll be there no matter what. Hopefully you’re able to be there no matter what. I also know that sometimes being the bystander to someone else’s abuse can be its own form of almost trauma can be really hard to be there on the side with that. But I think that that’s the best job that one can do for a friend who is being abused as to make it clear that you’re always there. If they need you, if they need a couch to sleep on, that you believe in them, that you’re the one who’s building them up, because I’m willing to bet in their own relationship they’re being broken down every single day. But if you can be that one person who builds your friend up and you know, and to not let her partner alienate you, I’ve been in that situation where the partner is pushing away all the friends and the partners, you know, trying to paint you as the bad guy. But whatever you can do to not be the bad guy, but just be a supporter for your friend, I think is going to be so valuable to her right now. You obviously can’t stop her from getting married. And, you know, you don’t necessarily have to give a toast. That’s like look at how great this couple is. They make me believe in love. But I do think that you can give a toast. That is about how you love her. A lot of wedding toasts are actually just about you know, this is my friend. This is how we met. I knew she was so special back then. And I know that in this next step in life, we’re all cheering for her now. And it can be that kind of wedding speech. It doesn’t have to be about this lousy guy. It really doesn’t have to be. You can just be there. You can build her up. You can love her. That’s my advice. What about you, Danny?

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S1: Yeah, I think that is really useful. My first question is whether or not the letter writer has said to their friend, this relationship is abusive, that that felt a little open ended, whether or not that was something that they had actually articulated. And, you know, again, I can understand why the letter writer may have not yet said so because they don’t want to get there before their friend does or to try to push. But if you were being asked to serve as the maid of honor and if you are worried about your friends increased isolation, I do think it’s worth considering. And again, you would have to thread this needle really carefully. You would have to say things very delicately, but it would be worth saying once before the wedding. And again, I don’t know the details of what type of abuse is going on here or your friend’s level of physical safety, financial safety, et cetera. So I’ll preface all this by saying maybe run this past your local women’s shelter, you know, maybe call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline for continued ongoing advice and support about how do I bring these concerns to my friend in a way that aren’t your partner’s abusive. You have to leave. You have to leave. Now I’m telling you what to do. But but I do think that something like I love you, I want to be at your wedding. And I also want to say I think that the way that your partner treats you is not right. And that’s so hard because it’s sort of like I want you to know that I think your partner is awful and you still want me as your maid of honor. I’m willing to do that. So I don’t want you to phrase it in quite that way. But, yeah, I think if you’re going to attend the wedding either as a maid of honor or just as a guest, you will need for your own peace of mind to have said to your friend at least once, I’m really worried about the way that he treats you. I believe that it’s wrong. If you ever feel ready to leave, I will be there for you. I also will not pressure you into leaving. I’m not going to be bringing this up over and over again. But I do want to say it once, because what you have told me scares me and maybe just let that conversation be on its own. You don’t have to answer the question right away about whether or not you’re ready to be maid of honor, because she may then have her own response to that. Does that strike you as too risky? Do you think it’s better to just say I can’t be your maid of honor, but I can attend and here are my concerns. Do you think I should separate those out? What do you think?

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S5: Well, I mean, I’m just going to say that, you know, you’re right that I think that this is a really delicate needle to thread. And one of my friends, while two of them, one of them in particular, if anybody ever used the word abuse around her, she cut the friend out immediately. And before you know what, every single friend was cut out of her life, including me. And that was really tough. And another friend, we never used the word abuse with her. The couple of us that were left in her friends circle, we did exactly what this letter writer saying. Actually, we validated her feelings when she talked about what her partner did to her. We said, that sounds awful. You don’t deserve to be treated that way. No one deserves to be treated that way. And we did our best to validate it, like the letter writer says, without using the word abuse, because sometimes when people hear the word abuse, it puts them on the defensive. And it’s just as you said, it’s a really delicate needle to thread. But, you know, I would say if you can do it in a way that maybe doesn’t alienate your friend, that shows continued concern for your friend, that might be the way to do it. And and if you do want to be the maid of honor, if she wants you to continue to be the maid of honor, that example of a speech I gave earlier of, you know, we all have loved you. We all believe in you. We know you’re a fantastic person. We wish you the best. You know, in this next chapter of your life, we’re all cheering for you. That might be the thing she also needs at that moment. Just to be reminded on that big day making this monumental life choice. She’s not alone in it. She’s not trapped with this guy. If she if she’s thinking at any moment you’re in the state, this is the worst mistake of my life. To hear that and be surrounded by her loved ones. She knows that she’s not really trapped, then I think that that’s a really good way to look at it.

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S1: I know that, generally speaking, serving as someone’s best man or maid of honor or like primary attendant. I understand why you say I worry that it would be coming as an endorsement, because it usually is to some degree some sort of investment. And, you know, I’m here for you. I’m part of this. I support you. And but but I agree. I do think that it is possible to consider whether or not you could. And again, that’s another question. It’s possible that as you think about this, you just think, I don’t think I’d be able to get through the ceremony as the maid of honor without either indirectly or directly causing a scene. And in that case, I think the better thing would be to honest and to say that you can’t do it, but that you would love to attend as a guest, you know, even though that’s not likely to go over very well. But if you think that you can and if you think that you can get the support you would need before and after, then I think to go and say I am being my friend’s maid of honor because she is getting married and I love her and I want to support her. And in the back of my mind, I wish she was not marrying her abusive partner. But I also know that she deserves my love and support no matter what. And I want her to have somebody who is in her corner on her wedding day. I do think if it’s at all possible for you to do that, that would be the best thing for you to do. I don’t think anyone would say this must mean that you like that she’s getting abused or you think that it’s fine.

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S4: I hope nobody would say that to you, but I think you would have a good answer to that and, of course, get the help you need to if you’re feeling the fatigue of being the rock for your friend through this, that can be a hard position to be into. So make sure you’re also getting support.

S1: Yeah. And good luck. Please write back. I would love to know. I know this is a ways down the road. So, you know, maybe something will happen in between now and then and she will be ready to leave. So yeah. Yeah, I hope so too.

S4: This next letters, are you subject, I found dad’s sects and they’re not to mom. Dear Prudence, my dad is very clearly cheating on my mom, he goes to bars, restaurants, holiday parties and other like activities with another woman, whereas I haven’t seen my mom and dad go on a date in years, he’s cheated before and they almost divorced. So I don’t know what is up now, but this other woman is his friend and he doesn’t try to hide it. In fact, he makes the rest of my family I live at home with them, hang out with her too, as if it’s normal and blows up at us when we don’t want to. My mom is a pushover and just lets it happen. And she’s told me she’s never addressed it with him outright before. Recently I was on my dad’s computer and stumbled across very incriminating messages with the other woman. And now I don’t know what to do. I’m pretty sure I have depression and anxiety because of this and it’s honestly ruining my life. But I also live at home and don’t know if it’s my place to call it out. They won’t go to therapy and I can’t afford it. For myself personally, any advice or even reassuring words would be appreciated.

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S1: I’m happy to start with just a reassuring word, which just, you know, I’m sorry I feel for you.

S4: Yeah, I do, too. That sucks. I’m so sorry. You have to live with this. The dynamic sound terrible. Your dad blowing up at you because you won’t hang out with his mistress. I mean, come on, your mom, she sounds like in a lot of ways she’s a broken woman. There’s the implication here that there’s other people in the household, too. Siblings, I’m guessing. I’m sorry for all of you. That sounds like a terrible situation. I’m sorry.

S1: Yeah. In terms of advice, I don’t know how old the letter writer is, whether or not there yet of an age where they could go and live independently, even if they had the resources, which it doesn’t sound like they do. I think long term, the best solution to this is going to be finding somewhere else to live. That can’t happen easily or quickly, especially during a pandemic. So that is a long term solution that is not available to you right now. If you have friends that you can safely spend a few nights a week with, do that, you know, anything in the medium term that you can do to either save money or arrange for another low cost living situation or just get out of the house more, pursue that, whatever that looks like. You know, your dad is an asshole. He seems very committed to being an asshole. Your mother is. Either not currently able to or interested in or some combination of the two either stand up for herself or leave him or get more independence. That’s awful. I think really my my main piece of advice here is some version of the best thing that you can do is get a lot of distance from this, not, you know, not help your mom leave your dad, not convince your dad to stop treating your mom this way. You’re their kid that makes you uniquely unqualified to serve as a relationship coach or a marriage therapist. That’s not something that you can safely or easily do. They should neither of them should be putting you in that position, especially your father. But so I think it feels right now like how do I either convince him to stop or encourage her to stand up for herself? And that is is just going to be nothing but exhausting and draining and destabilizing for you.

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S5: Yeah. And it’s not your job to fix them. You know, I know it might feel like it is because a family has its own unique universe and you are citizen number three or whatever it is in that universe. But it’s not your job to fix it. Their marriage is its own thing and they can do what they want to with it. And and you can’t you’re a child in this. And Danny, as you were saying, you’re uniquely unqualified to fix this. It’s not your job to please don’t. I agree. Build some distance, come up with a plan of how you can get out of there. Even if you can’t spend the night at friends houses, you can leave the house every day, maybe go on a walk, make sure that you are, you know, trying to build distance from your parents as much as you can. If that even means just, you know, coming up with a part time job that you do remotely in your room and close the door and not be around them, do what you can to save up money and come up with a long term plan to get out of there. You don’t need to be in there. And, you know, hopefully in the next year or two you can get out of there.

S3: Yeah. I mean, you say you don’t know if it’s your place to call it out. And I don’t want to have this framed in terms of what’s your place. This affects you. You have every right to call it out. The problem is that you live with them. You can’t afford to live on their own and your dad blows up at you. So that’s why my advice is to get that distance and independence, not because I think this isn’t really any of your business. It’s very much your business. Your parents are both especially your father, but both of them are really failing you as parents. And I am so sorry. And I wish that they could hear you when you say this is affecting me drastically, this is harming my mental health. This feels awful. And I only say seek that distance because I think that’s going to be the most helpful thing, not because I wish that was the I wish they would listen to you. I wish your father did not blow up at you when you said, no, I don’t want to hang out with the woman that you’re having an affair with. So, again, you know, if you were ever able to make an appointment with your own doctor, without your parents present, I would encourage you to speak to that doctor about your depression and anxiety. I would encourage you to confide in a couple of people that you trust and who you don’t think are going to go to your parents with this information and, you know, to get your distance, maybe there will come a time and a few years when you’re able to talk to your parents about this over the phone from a remove, because even then, if they blow up at you, you can at least say something like, I’m not going to talk to someone when they’re speaking to me like this. Let’s talk again. If you can stay calm and you’ll you’ll actually be able to insist upon certain boundaries that they won’t be able to override because you depend on them for a home.

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S4: Yeah. And I know you say that you don’t have any money for therapy right now, but I do want to let you know there are a lot of resources available that are free to you, including free support groups. And you can pursue those. A lot of support groups are available remotely right now because of covid. There are so many helplines available for people who are in tough domestic domestic situations right now during covid.

S5: So you don’t have to do this all alone. And there are specialists out there who can give you advice of how to cope with tough home situation right now. So you really are not alone in this.

S1: Yeah, and, you know, I just feel bad because, like, my best advice here is I’m sorry, this is awful. I hope someday you can move out which and, you know, in the meantime, take a lot of walks, which is just such an inadequate response to I have depression and anxiety. My father is constantly screaming at us for not wanting to participate in his affair. That just sounds absolutely over overwhelming and round the clock distressing. And you just don’t have a lot of good options. So I think I just want to acknowledge that you are in and actually really emotionally unbearable situation. And so whatever you have to do to minimize your father blowing up at you, I would encourage that you do that. If you feel up to just making up excuses why you can’t but not going into detail about your true feelings. Do that. Tell him what? Ever you think will work, you know, you do not owe him honesty right now, you do not owe him clarity on what you actually think if you think that it would be easier for you to just make up, oh, I’ve got class that afternoon or. Oh, I’d love to, but, you know, something came up. If if that works, do that. If it doesn’t work and there’s any way that you can kind of get away from the blowing up, I’d encourage you to do that. You know, I just I guess I really want to say, you know, this situation really well. And I, I imagine you know your father really well. Whatever you’re able to do to keep yourself safe in the moment, pursue that. Do not worry about being honest with somebody who has made it clear that they will punish honesty.

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S5: Yeah. And one other thing I wanted to add was, you know, I don’t know if you and your siblings are actually talking with each other about this or if you’re each in your own separate, you know, hads just dealing with this agony. If there’s anything you can do to lean on each other and in any way be a united front and feel less alone in this, maybe you can do that, too. I’m really not sure of what your sibling dynamics are. I know that, you know, sibling dynamics can be incredibly complicated. I know that in some families, siblings will team up against each other or take dad’s side because it’s beneficial right now or whatnot. So I don’t know if that’s something that would work for you. But if it is something that would work for you, maybe you and your siblings can lean on each other a little bit in this, too.

S1: Yeah, I think that’s a good last option. And, you know, if you are in school, if you’re in high school right now, if there’s a friend that you trust, if there’s a teacher that you trust, if there’s a counselor at school that you trust to reach out to again, I would just really encourage you to do that. And I’m so sorry that she sounds horrible.

S4: Would you take our next letter? Yes, our next letter has the subject still hurt? Dear Prudence, my oldest friend Matt said something to me a while ago that I haven’t been able to move on from. We’ve been close since high school, and he’s the only person besides my partner who knows about my abusive upbringing. He helped me a lot, giving me a place to stay when they kicked me out and taking me to the hospital more than once. We’ve always supported each other and talked openly about our problems with mental health. He has BPD. Over the summer, however, we had an argument over something unrelated to mental health issues and he threw out the phrase, All you ever do is go on about your troubled childhood and parental issues. I was incredibly hurt as the fear that I’ll bore my partner when I talk about my trauma issues is one of my greatest insecurities. Though my partner has always been very supportive, I don’t talk about it all the time. But Matt and my parents have both had to hear me talk a lot about parent stuff this year as my dad died in January. And I’ve had to deal with a lot of family stuff surrounding that, even though I’d been estranged from my parents previously. Matt apologized and said he hadn’t meant it and I didn’t feel able to do anything other than accept his apology because he was in a seriously bad place at the time. But I still think about what he said every time we interact and haven’t told him a single thing about my ongoing family situation since then. He also hasn’t asked, even though he knew I was in the middle of legal troubles regarding my dad’s well and my mom’s renewed attempts at contact, which have recently led to a restraining order. I am deeply hurt and resent hearing about Matt’s problems, also repetitive, to be honest, and supporting him when he has made no effort to ask about mine. Is it too late for me to raise with him how much? I’m still hurt by his comment after all this time and after he sent a very heartfelt sounding apology. I don’t want to hold a grudge, but this has really affected how I feel about our friendship.

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S3: So I think, you know, the general question, the sort of big picture question is just if you have had a fight with a friend and they gave you an apology and a little while later, you still have some feelings about it, is it anything but punitive to bring it up? And to me, that general question, the answer is just yes, of course, it’s not necessarily like you fucked up on your apology. So I need to punish you some more. It’s just one conversation didn’t completely heal and address this problem. That’s fine. That’s to be expected. Follow up conversations are often part of what give an apology real legs and weight. So, yeah, it’s absolutely OK. The question of whether or not you want to do this with Matt, I think is a little bit more open ended because there’s a lot of other complicating factors here. But yeah, it’s not an indication that an apology was shitty or worthless. If you’re like, well, I still have some feelings.

S4: Yeah. And it sounds here that the feelings are not simply about the apology because you yourself say he sent you a really, you know, heartfelt written apology as well.

S5: Later, to me, it almost sounds like the issue isn’t about what he said so much as in your own words, your own insecurities about am I the person who only talks about my parents one. And number two, the fact that Matt has ever since then completely failed to ask about your family. And that sounds really hurtful. You know, we want our friends to check in on us and not just always talk about what they’re going through. And, you know, we’ve all been in that point in our lives where we’re going through something tough and we only talk about our own stuff and maybe we become repetitive, maybe we spiral, maybe we end up, you know, being exhausting to listen to. But, you know, even then, we should be asking other people what they’re doing to. And Matt’s not doing that with you. He’s not asking how you’re doing. And it sounds like that’s really what the hurt is more about than anything else.

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S3: Would you agree, Danny? Yeah. Yeah. And so I think before figuring out how you want to proceed, maybe the best question is to say, you know, given the reality of our history, the reality of our various diagnoses and the ways in which that can sometimes affect the way that we treat our friends, what do I want from a relationship with Matt? Because maybe you think about it and it’s like, listen, I’ve known this guy longer than anyone else. He knows about my abusive upbringing. We’ve been there for each other in a lot of ways. We’ve also you know, he’s hurt me in serious ways. I don’t know that I necessarily want to go back to a relationship where we both share a lot about our family trauma. Maybe your ideal relationship is one where you address this in a slightly limited way and you say, I think it’s helped to talk less about my family and I would like to do the same thing on both sides. And you move things into a relationship where you both limit how much you share about your family with one another and things become on a slightly different basis. Maybe as you think about it, you think know, my ideal would be to go back to we both talk about our family traumas, but we now have new ways of letting each other know, you know, 20 minutes is my limit today or we need to start talking about, you know, movies or books or other things now because I think you’ll be able to do that. I think that’s possible to do lovingly and without sounding like robots, like your empathy. Family Hour is up now it is time to discuss the weather.

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S1: So maybe do a little reconnaissance work there and think, what’s my ideal relationship with Matt? Do I really want to reopen all that vulnerability with him, given the ways in which we’ve kind of hurt each other? Or do I want to keep things that are slightly more removed, safe level, because that will inform how you approach this. And then I think, you know, you simply bring it up by saying, I want to talk a little bit more about our fight. I want to start by saying just again, that was a beautiful apology. It meant a lot to me. I’ve also still had some lingering feelings because it brought up a really big insecurity for me. And it’s also led to a dynamic where I now never discuss my family with you and you discuss yours with me often.

S3: And that one’s challenging for me. And you can you know, then I think also ask, like, how do you feel about that? And, you know, maybe he’ll you say he’s not in a bad place right now. So I think his ability to reflect and answer you honestly is is higher than it was then. And maybe he’ll say, you know, you’re right. I think I’ve been getting a little carried away with it. Maybe we should both take a break from it and you can see how that feels.

S1: Maybe he’ll say, I’m ready to hear more about it. And you can say, I hear that. I love that. I also feel a little nervous that you’re going to use that against me again. So I want to, you know, limit in advance how much we talk about our families with each other. That’s fine.

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S4: All of those, I think, are good options. Yeah, you can redefine your relationship. And I mean, I, I don’t mean that, like, oh, let’s drop some new rules and this is who we are now or whatnot. But I think that all of us evolve and we change and our relationships change with people and how much we talk about certain things with certain people that changes to and how how we talk about those things. So maybe you’ll be talking just as much by.

S5: Maybe you’ll be talking in a different way, one that feels that, you know, maybe it’s not repetitive, but maybe it feels like it’s more progressive. You’re moving forward each time you talk or you’re helping each other more each time you’re talking. There are different ways that we can be with our friends. And, you know, just to go back to what you said in the beginning, it’s never too late to bring it up again. If something hurts to you can you can go back and talk about it. I don’t care if it’s a month later or a year later you can say that. And in doing that, it’s not being the bad guy. It’s not nagging. It’s saying I care about our relationship and it’s important for me to bring up this thing so that we can move forward to the next place, because what we don’t do is move forward when we decide to just pretend it doesn’t hurt and pretend that it doesn’t need fixing. So, you know, brave talk about it, because what you really want to do is go to the next place with Matt. That’s a healthier, happier place with him.

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S1: Yeah. And I think I’ll just my last thought here is. I really understand why you still feel heard about this, and it also just looks like you two never really had a conversation about how to how does are sharing traumatic stuff with one another affect the other? What are ways that we can be respectful of one another’s limits until he shouted at you? All you ever do is talk about this. And that’s not to say, oh, the two of you are both equally at fault that he said something really, really cruel and hurtful. You’re not. But if you do want to continue trying to repair this friendship, I do think that the only two things you two have tried is one, like just no limits. We intuit when and how and under what conditions to share about traumatic family stuff. That’s it. No rules. And then the other one is stop this. Now, you always do this. It has to stop immediately. And then you really clammed up. So, again, you don’t have to decide that you want to revisit this with Matt. If you just decide that what you would rather do is, is tell him you need him to scale back on how much he talks about his family and move this relationship to a slightly safer territory. That would make a lot of sense. But if you do if the conversation starts to go well and you do want to try something else, I do think that it is possible to say, you know, it’s not an either or thing where we either discuss it all the time or never, like what are ways that we can let the other know, OK, I need to wrap it up for the day or I need to let you know how often a week or a month I can hear about this in a way that’s not just like you’ve run out of time, your collect call is about to get dropped, but that we can agree on in advance that we can both here and receive and they won’t feel like, shut up now. I have no empathy left. Shut up. And if that’s possible, I think that might go a long way towards making you feel like, yeah, I can still talk to you about this.

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S4: Yeah. And that can be just, you know, a few back and forth, you know, like, hey, this would feel better for me with this bill. Better for you. How does that sound to you? Great. Let’s try to, you know, moving forward, be mindful of that.

S5: It doesn’t have to be like I said earlier, you don’t have to write out a whole giant rulebook of things. You can just check in with each other and say, all right, I think this is going to feel good, but let’s try this.

S1: Yeah. Yeah. And good luck. That’s hard. I’m glad you have at least, you know, your partner to rely on and hopefully other people in your life as well. And this also may be an indicator that at some point you do want to share your abusive upbringing with somebody else besides your partner. And I don’t say that to, like, push you into doing it. You don’t have to. But if part of what you’re feeling is the sense of I really do want an outlet besides my partner, and I’m not sure if Matt can be that outlet anymore, you know, maybe it’s time to find a support group, speak to a therapist, consider asking one of your other friends if they’re available for like an intense conversation, because that might be part of what’s going on here is just like I need to talk about this a little bit more. And that would be OK. This next one is awful. I feel so bad. The subject is creepy. Boss, Dear Prudence, my boss calls me a lot on Zoome when I think a regular call would do, I always answer, but these calls make me so uncomfortable. These conversations are never about work, but just about telling me how wonderful I am and asking me if the noises my dog makes in the background are a lover I haven’t told him about. I like my job and I’m paid better than anywhere else I could go, so I’m scared to lose it. But this makes me uncomfortable. Last night he called me at ten to hear the cicadas in his backyard. We have no real HRR. How can I ask him to cut back without risking my position? Oh, fuck.

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S4: I am so sorry, his boss, the worst, the boss is terrible. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. You don’t deserve this. He doesn’t deserve to be a boss. He shouldn’t be anybody’s boss. This is not fun. It is not professional. It is not. It is not legal. All of these things. It’s wrong. This is sexual harassment. Exactly. I mean, I have a simple three point plan of what this letter writer should do based on my own experience, having been sexually harassed before, please. Yeah, but first and foremost, I just want to reiterate, this is terrible. None of this is just creepy and weird. It is wrong. It’s illegal. It’s not OK. And I’m sorry you’re going through this. So first and foremost, I just got to say, please, if you can, don’t interact with your boss ever again outside office hours, if you can avoid that. I mean, I don’t know if that can happen with your job, but, oh, my God, when your boss is calling you at 10 pm at night, if you can, you know, don’t pick up. And I’m saying this first step not because I’m trying to put the onus on you, like, why would you pick up the call? Why would you do this? This isn’t about blaming you. This is about protecting yourself. If you can, you know, to try and protect yourself are right.

S1: And I mean, I would imagine the reason that this letter writer has been picking up the calls is because this is the boss. This is the boss. And the fear is if I’m not available, I’m going to get retaliation.

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S4: Yeah. And if there’s any way you can get around that, I don’t know if there is. But if there is a way you can get around it and set up new norms of you just can’t pick up the phone outside of office hours. If there’s a way to do that, do that. And of course, I hope you’re documenting every single time this happens. You know, avoidance is one thing. Trying to build boundaries is one thing. But any time he is doing something inappropriate like this, please write down what the incident is right down the day. Write down the time. And that way you have a running list of everything. So it’s not just a oh, in general. He does this. There was one time he did this, but the more documentation you have, the more protected you are going forward.

S5: And I know you said you don’t have a real H.R. department, but there are other people you can talk to, even if that includes an employment attorney. There are other people you can talk to. And that’s why this documentation is really, really important.

S1: Right. And I was thinking specifically of if you don’t have an H.R. department, you can potentially file a claim with the EEOC, which is the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. So that is potentially a place that you could file a claim. And as as as Christine said, you can also consult with a lawyer who specializes in workplace harassment. I think you have a case again, you may not decide to pursue one for a variety of reasons, but you have the right to consider it and to seek out legal advice. And so I think you already have what sounds like a lot of incidents that you can document and you don’t have to have written it down at the time, like you can write down to the best of your recollection. Well, this happened on such and such a day at such and such a time. And I think you should consider filing those complaints. And I think you should speak to a lawyer about the possibility of a case. I think all of those are really good pieces of advice. And then back to you.

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S4: Yes. And then my third point and my three point plan is can you look for a job elsewhere? Because I know you’re saying, yes, this pays better than anywhere else I’ve ever worked. But is the money you’re getting here worth the agony of all day up until 10:00 at night dealing with sexual harassment? And to me, that doesn’t seem like a fair pay off. I’m not sure of what your economic situation is. I’m not sure if, you know, if you quit this job, if suddenly you’ll find yourself homeless. I obviously don’t want you to be homeless. So you have to you know, money is a reality in life. We do have to pay the bills. But if you can please try to look for employment elsewhere as well, because you don’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this.

S5: This is a terrible thing that you have to go through every single day and not just go through, but know that if you don’t go through it, you might not get paid.

S1: Yeah, and I think the only thing that I will add to that and again, all of this is just like I’ve what’s so frustrating is it just feels like what I feel like we’re offering is just a series of compromises, like these are things you should not have to do at work. You should not have to be fending off your boss’s obvious sexual harassment and not have any options. Like you should not have to be coming up with a series of ways to, like, de-escalate things. You should be able to just do your fucking job. And I, I hate that part of what this advice that I’m offering is. It’s like here’s how to try to make it a little bit more bearable for yourself until you can get another job, which might involve getting a pay cut because your fucking boss is a sexual harasser. I’m truly sorry. And that’s part of why I really, really hope that the EEOC and a sexual harassment lawyer are helpful to you, because what I really hope is that you can get this guy fucking fired and hopefully get a lot of money out of this company. That would be, I think, my my hope for this. But while you are working on that, because you still have to tomorrow work and I say this with only push back in such ways as you think you can do without, you know, losing your job. So if you feel like I believe based on his behavior, if I were to say this, he would try to fire me, trust your judgment there. But if he tries to call you on Zoome and you are not interested in talking on Zoome, let him know I can’t talk on Zoom right now. Do you need something about work? And for that to be your kind of go to response. And if he calls and starts rambling about the cicadas, you can just say, hey, is this about work? Was there something that you needed for work? Because if not, I have to go and you don’t need to come up with an excuse about what you’re doing. And he may very well say, oh, do you have somewhere to give a lover to talk to? And I think then again, just reiterate, do you need something for me, for work and to kind of reuse that line as often as you have to? And I think, again, like in my experience, that’s been the most useful way of trying to cut through, not like being so fuck, I hate this. Like, it’s sort of like it won’t necessarily get his back up in the same way, saying this is sexual harassment. Right. But like, you should just be able to say it’s far from sexual harassment. And this is awful. I mean, he’s asking you if your dog is like God, that’s just really disgusting. But yeah, I think in the short term, the best protective advice I have is just say again, is this about work? If not, I have to go. And if there’s anyone else in your department that you can start like on things or to say like, you know, if there’s something that you need that I can’t help you with, how about you talk to Mark and just a sort of reminder of like there’s other people in the office who, like you maybe would not talk to me this way in front of anything that you can do on that front might help minimize this. But it is. You know, it is OK to say, hey, if this isn’t about work, I’m going to have to go. And again, I don’t say that because I think that that is like something that you should have to do. And in the medium term, I really want him to lose his job and never manage anyone ever again. And for you to get a lot of cash for having to put up with this garbage. But that’s it. I’m just sad now.

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S4: Yeah, it sucks. The onus is so much on the victim in this situation. It’s just not fair.

S1: Right. And like that, she’s already in that place. Like, her question is, how can I ask him to cut back? Like, what I would like is to not get fired for asking my boss to sexually harass me a little bit less like that is fucking bleak right now.

S4: I think your advice is great. You know, use the word work a lot. Does this relate to work? A lot. And I just I, I also just want to reiterate what I said earlier. You know, do the best you can to limit things to work hours if you can, and document and talk to somebody who can help you.

S1: Yeah. And just that sentence, if this is not about work, I have to go and to not give him a story because then he’s going to try to ask you questions or undercut that. So to just keep going with if this is not about work, I’m going to have to go and fuck him. OK. Next letter, if you please.

S4: Subject best friend in a bottle. Dear Prudence, my friend and I are both in our 30s. We’ve been staying in touch throughout the pandemic lately. She’s been making comments about nearly nightly drinking. She’s clear that she plans on drinking alone to numb feelings of anxiety and isolation. Last night she messaged me some lines of incoherent text, then told me today that she was hung over and had fallen out of bed at some point last night. I have a family history of functional alcoholics and have addressed issues caused by this upbringing and therapy. I am also aware of my own predispositions and take monitoring my behavior around alcohol seriously. My friend is currently seeing a therapist for depression, but I don’t know if they have discussed drinking. I want to be supportive toward my friend without enabling her or dredging up personal baggage. I worry that refusing to talk about this or coming down hard could lead to drinking in secret. But I also cannot match her cavalier tone about a budding substance abuse problem. So far, attempts to raise concerns or share my experience have been brushed off. What is the best line to strike here?

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S3: Great question. Yeah, man, if I had, like, a great answer to, like, how do you maintain your own well-being and sanity while also loving somebody who may be developing a serious drinking problem like that’s a real problem. People have a big problem with that. There’s a lot of a lot gets written on this subject because it’s really hard.

S5: Yeah, and even even more so during the pandemic. I mean, there’s been so much research that’s been done about the numbers of ways and the percentage of the population that’s leaning way more heavily on vices than we ever used to before, whether that’s food or alcohol or marijuana or even screentime. You know, we’re all coping the best we can right now. And a lot of people are feeling anxious. A lot of people are feeling lonely.

S4: A lot of people are feeling depressed and and not always, you know, coping in the healthiest ways or imbibing in the most measured ways. So, yeah, it’s tough. But also it’s just it seems to be a widespread issue right now to. Yeah.

S1: And to that end, I think, you know, if you make it your goal to get her to take this seriously the way that you do, I think you will drive yourself crazy. If you make it your goal to try to manage or control her relationship to alcohol, you will drive yourself crazy. So that’s one big limits that you can still try. And a lot of people try and really wear themselves out. I think that the the most you can do here is express your concerns honestly and then beyond that, say I’m going to have some limits. So maybe that’s, you know, I love you. The stories you just told me make me worry. I really hope that you talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about them. I can’t make you do that. All I can say now is that this is bringing up some issues for me around my own family history. And I, I need to take a minute. And that’s not the same thing as telling her keep your drinking a secret forever and ever. And that’s not the same thing as saying you are a bad person and a monster and you’re secretly my alcoholic dad. It’s just letting her know, like, here’s what I think. And also this is getting tricky for me. So I’m going to, you know, lovingly ask that we put a pin in this conversation and I’m going to go do something to take care of myself. And that might feel really hard. It might feel way too close to conflict, especially if you have a history of conflict avoidance in your friendships. I wouldn’t know anything about that personally, but I think that’s something you can do. I think that’s something that you can realistically accomplish. And so even if your friend doesn’t necessarily say you’re right, things need to change tomorrow, she can at least. You know, respect that you have concerns about her drinking. You hope she shares them with somebody else and that even if she doesn’t, you are not always available to hear about, like a funny story from the night before because it worries you.

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S5: Yeah. And when you’re with her, I’m not sure what you do when you’re together. I’m not sure if you do zoom happy hours. If you go out for meals, I’m not sure where you live.

S1: It seems it seems like they’ve both been really at home in the pandemic. So it doesn’t seem like any of this is happening in person. It seems like it’s all either text or phone calls. That was my I got it.

S4: I wasn’t totally sure on that. I know that here in Brooklyn, some of us are mostly socially distancing, but maybe meeting in person to do, you know, an outdoor drink or an outdoor meal or, you know, of course, it’s possible that they’ve been meeting in person. Of course. But, you know, if that’s the case, I would just say, you know, any activities you do together since the alcohol, you know, makes you so uncomfortable, you can just make that clear, like when we’re hanging out, whether it’s, you know, by Zoom or in person, let’s just make it a manicure night and we’ll both doornails or we’ll do something else and make it an activity that has nothing to do with alcohol. I, I’m not sure. Up until now, you’ve been trying to responsibly drink with her, but you don’t have to drink with her at all if you don’t want to. You know, you can just take that completely off the table if you want to.

S1: Yeah. And I guess the sort of last thing that I’ll leave it with is you don’t have to adjudicate on her behalf whether or not this is a budding functional alcoholism problem or something else. You can simply say what is true, which is that lately she’s been drinking every night and she’s been getting hung over and occasionally falling and hurting herself in ways that she didn’t before. And you don’t have to make that either more or less than it is. I think sometimes the response, you know, if somebody feels defensive can be like, well, things are so wild right now. It’s a pandemic. Of course I would, you know, who wouldn’t drink a little extra every night? And then on the other side, it could be you know, this is the beginning of a lifelong battle with alcoholism and this is your last chance to nip it in the bud. And you can just really stick to you know, you’re telling me that you’re drinking every night and that sometimes you fall and have accidents. That makes me worry. And that’s not the same thing as saying and you need to get sober tomorrow and never touch another drop of alcohol again. And I figure out exactly how you need to fix your life. It’s simply expressing a real non made up concern. And there’s a lot of different ways that she could potentially address that she is free to pursue them or not. But it makes sense that you want to express your concerns more seriously and to also say I need to limit how much we talk about them as funny fun stories. I’m definitely here to talk to you about, you know, how it feels or how you’re doing. I want to encourage you to share this with your therapist, not because I’m like a mean babysitter who wants to, like, end the party, but because I love you and I care about you. And I don’t know. It can be hard to express concern to a friend in a way that doesn’t come across as like and I no longer think you’re fit to make your own decisions. And you should let me run your life and let me just handle this for you. And so I also understand why people feel, you know, why they bristle when a friend expresses concern, because that can be the fear. And so you can really express I am not trying to tell you that you’re secretly my dad. I just I don’t want to fall over, you know? Yeah. Don’t hit your head. Don’t don’t want to hurt your head, you know. Yeah. I want your head to be OK. You know, I’m not looking for you to get through this pandemic having just like, you know, meditated perfectly for three hours every night and then eating like nine vegetables and then stretching and then going to sleep at like I don’t I don’t want, like, forced perfection from you. I just this makes me worry and good luck. I am sorry. I feel like I’ve said that so many times today, just over and over again. Like, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. And for me to you, dear Prudence, I’m sorry. There’s a lot to be sorry about. That’s why the writing. Right. But lots of suffering going around today. Hopefully someone was helped a little little bit. And if not, at least you and I managed to kill an hour and a half pleasantly.

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S4: Yeah. A lot of people with in tough situations this week. But I wish everybody the best. You’re not alone. We’re in a tough we’re all in a tough situation now, but all of you are in situations that I know you don’t have to suffer alone and you can get help. And and we just hope you’re all OK.

S6: 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 Slate Dotcom. Pretty hard to sign up. If you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message for zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three to seven. And you might hear your answer on an episode of the show. You don’t have to use your real name or location, and at your request we can even alter the sound of your voice. Keep it short, 30 seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening.

S3: And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday.

S4: I just feel like there are a lot of potential pitfalls of you becoming the bad guy in this. Somehow when you’re just trying to be there for him. You know, you have the self-knowledge to know that being a fixer in relationships is not necessarily the healthiest thing to be in a relationship. Being in teams is great. You know, we all work great in teams, hopefully, but for one person to be the fixer and then the other to be that patient, uh, you know, that that can be really tough.

S1: But, yeah, I think if that worked out really well, you would have said I’m the fixer in relationships and it goes great. The people love it. It makes me really happy and it just sets us up for long term sustainability. To listen to the rest of that conversation, join Slate plus now at Slate dot com forward slash Prudy part.