S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you.
S2: Your freedom, your prudent, your prudent decisions, your proof here. Do you think that I should contact him again? Help! Help! Thanks. 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. Laborie. With me in the studio this week is a dear, dear friend of mine of great long standing Ben Gullit, a creative technologist living in Brooklyn, New York. Then welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Thank you so much for being my favorite creative technologist.
S3: I’m glad to be number one for once.
S1: Absolutely nobody else even compares creative technology wise.
S3: Yeah, it’s a competitive market, so I’m glad to be at the top of my game.
S4: I’m glad you’re here. I hope that at some point your expertise in building the set of cats is going to come into play.
S3: How do they know that you were going to bring that up again?
S1: It’s kind of my thing that I always bring up because I think it’s one of the coolest facts about any of my friends. And so sometimes I’ll just be like, oh, have I mentioned my friend Ben who helped to build part of the set of cats?
S3: I bet it’s a good way to get kind of a barometer test of whoever you’re telling that to, too.
S1: Yeah, yeah. It’s you know, it’s just a fun, fun, fun, fun fact that I really enjoy and cling to for delight and joy when I am at risk of being dashed upon the rocks of my life. Well, you’re delight to me, would you please, since it does actually have to do with technology, be so good as to read our first letter?
S3: Sure. OK, dear Prudence, my husband and I had to leave for a week and hired a dog sitter. We told her about our security system but didn’t go into details about our camera system, just the alarm code. We got an alert and decided to check our video feed. The alert turned out to be a kids, her neighbor’s kid crossing the backyard fence to get the ball. What shocked us was when we discovered the dog sitter wandering around our house completely naked. It looked like she took a shower after taking the dogs out. She came out from the master bedroom and just decided not to put on clothes for the next few hours. We fast forwarded the video during the time she sat at our dinner table, moved to our sofa and ended up taking a nap in our recliner naked. I called the agency we hired her from and told them exactly what happened. The agency apologized and refunded our money. They also fired the woman. I was telling the story to my sister in college aged niece. My niece got upset and told me how creepy it was that we had cameras set up and didn’t tell this poor woman. She said we were as bad as she was and we did worse by getting her fired. I asked my niece how she would feel if a stranger wandered around naked in her apartment and she paid them for it. Would you wander around naked at her work? It was gross and only someone with serious mental issues would do that. Or if they had some weird fetish, she rolled her eyes at me. I don’t think I was out of line, but it hurts me that my niece, whom I’ve always been close to, would call her uncle and I creepy. How do we deal with her?
S1: So it may help to start by saying that there are a number of things that I think I have in common with the niece’s reaction, same here. Yeah, I don’t think this is a really clear cut situation where you did everything right and shouldn’t reexamine any of your choices. Where would you put on the scale of objections, somebody who’s dog sitting for you for a week, taking a shower and then being naked in the house for a while, like, do you do you find that tantamount to showing up naked to work? Do you find it tantamount to asking people to pay you money to be nude in their homes? Where does that land for you?
S3: I think it’s fine. I mean, I understand that people have different feelings about like the hygiene aspect of that, and I think that there would be. A certain feeling that I might have if I hired someone as a dog sitter and they know spent like the hot summer afternoon in my recliner or something like that, like I would have preferred that they put down some newspaper or something first. I think a towel is customary. Yeah. It’s just the polite thing to do. But I don’t think that it’s weird that someone would walk around the house naked. And I don’t think it’s anything like at the level of like walking around your work naked. It it doesn’t seem like a major transgression. It could be a transgression, certainly, if it seems like.
S1: I don’t know. Yeah. I would say I’m kind of right there with you. I think the objection that makes sense to me if if somebody who’s dog sitting or housesitting is naked in the house is you know, you wouldn’t want them sitting on your furniture without setting a towel down. That seems like a reasonable thing to be bothered by. It seems slightly mitigated by the fact that she had just taken a shower, whatever. I will grant you that that is something that it’s fine to be bothered by. I’m right there with you. Like it’s it’s not at all. I don’t know where you’re getting the idea. Letter writer, that she was like hanging out naked because she wanted to, like, upset you or or as part of, like a sex thing, like the amputation, there is just. It is weird and voyeuristic, it is weird that you fast forwarded through all the footage. It is weird that you had up a camera system and didn’t tell her, I think. I think it’s weird to set up a camera system and then tell someone, spend a week in my house and then not tell them that you’re going to be filming them. I don’t know that it’s like legal or illegal. I just think it’s weird. And I think if you’re going to ask people to dogs that for you and film them, you should tell them you’re going to film them. Absolutely.
S3: I think that there’s there are certain assumptions that we make when we enter into any sort of contract with people or some sort of agreement. And I think that there is probably some sort of social norm that assumes that if you have someone staying at your house, that they’re probably not going to lounge on all of your furniture naked. But there’s most definitely a social contract that says that you don’t film people without their knowledge, even if it is your own house. And you do tell them about a security system. It seems it seems like a violation to have cameras and not tell somebody.
S1: Yeah, I just I’m just right there with you. Like, it’s not true that this woman was walking around naked in your apartment because you paid her for that like it was clearly casual at home, incidental nudity. She took a nap, you know what I mean? Like, she wasn’t like, I don’t know, running around, like performing sex acts in front of your camera, maintaining direct eye contact with you, like it’s just not the same thing. This was incidental, non-sexual at home nudity, which does not need to be like mythologised or treated like a crime. It’s fine to be like I wouldn’t want house sitters or dog sitters to sit on the furniture without some sort of barrier. But again, that clearly wasn’t the thing that bothered you. You know, like they didn’t mention like it’s a hygiene thing or like we would want to make sure that she, like, you know, cleaned the furniture after she’d sat on it like that. Clearly was not the issue. The issue was like this woman in the privacy of the home she was staying at was naked and no one saw except for us through our secret cameras that we installed. And now we’re the victims of our own secret cameras. So, you know, you got the woman fired. She’s been fired. I don’t agree that what she did rose to the level of being fired and kind of with your niece here, I think you guys need to at the very least from now on, if you have any one dog sit or house it or stop by and water your plants. If you’re going to use this security system to film people, which I don’t think you should write, like, clearly it was triggered because a kid chased a ball into your backyard and then you saw that your dogs that are was hanging out naked. Don’t I mean, like you didn’t find, like, some secret smuggling ring operating out of your house. You know, you went looking for trouble and you made trouble. And I don’t think this is actually keeping you safe. So my first recommendation is get rid of the security system, get rid of the cameras. At least if you’re not going to do that, tell people who are going to be in your home when the cameras are on that there are cameras on. And if your niece is mad at you, she gets to be mad at you.
S3: Yeah, that sounds bad to me. I would get rid of the cameras for sure. I think that is the sort of thing where if you do care so deeply that someone does not behave in your house as they would in their own house, that you tell them you have the security cameras and then you kind of establish a panopticon that’s going to keep them from behaving in a way that you wouldn’t deem appropriate.
S1: Yeah, I don’t know. I just like it is difficult for me to get on board with this idea of, like, my my property is so sacrosanct that when I am not there, I must set up an unblinking eye. The gaze is upon all who dare touch my recliner. And if they do so without the appropriate garments, I will get them fired. It just feels like a totally out of whack relationship to people and property. And I see all that with, again, like the caveat that like I wouldn’t want somebody I didn’t know sitting down on my couch naked without throwing a towel down. Probably. I don’t know. I can also imagine situations where it wouldn’t bother me, but yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily want that.
S3: But also I have understanding that I don’t really want to know if that happened either.
S1: Yeah. I don’t need to know that, like and just the idea of like the only reason somebody would be naked in the summer after taking a shower for a couple of hours when they’re inside is if they had serious mental issues like this. Just the most ridiculous assertion I’ve heard in an hour or two. That’s not true at all. People walk around naked in their homes or homes where their, you know, dog sitting or hotel rooms that they’re staying at because they’re comfortable being naked. And it’s not work. It’s not a public place. It’s a private place. She assumed it was fine to be naked because nobody saw her. And you think she’s weird because you were secretly watching her and it’s time to turn that unblinking eye towards yourself. I’m a little too proud of that one, I’m afraid so.
S3: I’m going to move into our second. I was just going to let that have a pause and just really, really let everyone have that same.
S1: This next letter, the subject is five finger discounts, Dear Prudence, my housemate steals things often. It started with a few spices from a major grocery store, but it’s graduated to stealing fancy alcohol, expensive cuts of meat, kitchen utensils, garden decor and house plants. His friend comes to visit and they’ll load up a cart full of items and just walk out of stores with it. They’ll wait for cover of night to steal things from abandoned lots or people’s yards will enjoy the nice things he brings home. But I’m feeling very guilty about all of this. I get the corporations are greedy and that people deserve more than companies do, which is the whole reason he does it. But I’m not a thief. I come from a low income family just like my housemate, and I’ve always been really grateful just to be able to make ends meet. I’ve tried asking my housemate to cut back, but he assures me it’s safe. And since I’m not doing this dealing, I have nothing to worry about. I don’t know what to say to that, but my guilt isn’t going away. He’s stolen over five thousand dollars worth of stuff in the past four months. What can I do to stop this? Should I just stay in my lane? Please help. I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of questions about like other people stealing or possibly other people exploiting systems or other people getting away from stuff like in the column today and in the live chat as well. And I’m trying to get a sense of like what my general hard and fast rule is. And I don’t think that I have one hard and fast rule here, but I think a couple of things are clear. One is right. This is not on the same level as if he were going out, knocking people down, taking their purses, like directly interfering with somebody’s ability to, like, function throughout the day or take care of themselves. But like you also don’t have to say like that because corporations are greedy. The best thing that your housemate can do with that information is take a shopping cart out and steal all the time and fill your house with stolen stuff until you shut up when you worry about it like that doesn’t necessarily follow. Even if we all agree that corporations are in general greedy, right?
S3: Yeah, I agree with that. Yeah, it certainly isn’t like that. The next course of action is to steal from a corporation that’s being greedy. Like, yeah, you’re right that there is there are other ways of dealing with that information.
S1: Yeah. And of course, you know, it started with the corporations and like abandoned lots. I’m not really worried about, like from an ethical standpoint, but then the bit about people’s yards. Well, that, you know, those are your neighbors and I assume that they live in your neighborhood. They’re probably in at least similar economic strata as you and your housemate. You know, this isn’t like, oh, Target can absorb this loss. This is like the guy down the street. And so I think there’s there’s that’s where it kind of falls apart that like, oh, this is my, like, personal response to the problems of capitalism, which again, would look a lot more like I redistribute this to people who need it or like organize like with groceries to like pick up stuff they have to throw away at the end of the day to like distribute to food banks or mutual aid. Like this is not about tackling capitalism. He’s true. It’s like it’s true that capitalism and corporations are not working out. But then his solution to it is not you don’t have to accept his claim about how, like this is the best response. Right.
S3: Yeah, and I think that there is that is an extremely important distinction of stealing from corporations, but then stealing from other people’s yards seems like a whole other issue. I think as far as like Lien’s go with this, that there is a crossover of having a housemate who’s, like living in your house, who’s effectively kind of part of your immediate community, and then also kind of the values that you have for what sort of community that you want to have. And it sounds like that there isn’t really a matchup going on that there is having a roommate who doesn’t reflect the same sort of values and seems to be kind of undermining a certain sense of community that you have, that that’s where the real conflict lies. And so as far as like having a lane like, I think that that actually ends up being something that does affect you. It’s not just whether or not this is illegal and you’re going to get arrested and put in jail for having stolen goods in your home. I think that it’s about like establishing a home that reflects the sort of community that you want to live in.
S1: Yeah, I think that’s a really great point, too, because, like, spoiler alert, my advice is not going to be call the cops on your housemate. But I think that’s a really good way of looking at it, too, because it’s not just a question of like, well, if you get caught, I might get in trouble, too. That might happen. It might not. Your house might not get caught. Your housemate might get caught, and then you might not also get in trouble. I can’t predict that perfectly. But yeah, I think it’s really true that, like, this has to do with the way that your home is set up and you feel bad about it and you don’t really want to be a part of it. And it’s not something that you value. So, you know, in terms of like what can you do? You can do a number of different things. You can you know, I don’t think you should call the police. I don’t think that that would make your friend. I don’t think it would change the way that your friend felt. I don’t think it would do your friend good to be, you know, swallowed up by the criminal justice system. I don’t think it would make other people safer. I don’t think that’s a good option. I think it exposes people to unnecessary risk. You can keep trying to persuade your housemate. You can try to talk to other housemates if you have more than one or mutual friends and ask them to join you in asking your housemate to reconsider. You can also say. I don’t want to live like this and I’m going to move out, which is its own challenge for you, and then you would also have to do the work of finding another place to live, but maybe kind of your best back up just in terms of like I really think you shouldn’t do this. I think it’s both risky. And I also think you’re like hurting our neighbors, which sucks and, you know, increases the likelihood that you’ll get caught if you’re stealing stuff from the neighbors and then they come by and see it like on our front lawn. So it doesn’t sound like he’s stealing, especially Cleverley either. And to just say, like, if you’re not going to stop, I’m going to move out. And that to me seems like maybe the best option that’s available to you, which is neither like I’m going to force you to stop or whatever. I’m just going to ignore it.
S3: Yeah, yeah, and I think that, like another good option of being able to kind of start the discussion so that it doesn’t immediately go into like, I can’t abide by this, I’m going to have to break our lease is also just to say, like if he brings stuff over to your house and you normally would enjoy whatever stolen cheese plate that he has, say like, you know, I’m actually kind of been thinking about this and I don’t think I’m, you know, comfortable, you know, enjoying some stolen goods for X, Y and Z reasons or, you know, if it’s particularly something from your neighbors to be able to say, like, I’m just not going to be able to participate in this like I used to and I’m not that might get a response from him. But then you can kind of start to pick up a larger discussion.
S1: Yeah. And it’s just like you definitely don’t have to take this guy’s word for it when he’s like, don’t worry, it’s safe. Like people usually think when they like have concocted a sort of scheme that makes sense only to them are like, of course they’re going to try to reassure you like, no, no, no, it’s a great idea. It’s super safe. You do not have to take him at his word when he says that, like, don’t take that into account when you’re making your own decisions. Like, I don’t think that this guy has actually done like his research and figured out a foolproof plan to get away with tons of shoplifting. Sounds like a bad housemate. He sounds like a person who looks at real problems and kind of just is interested in seeing, like, how can I get something out of this? And he doesn’t sound terrific.
S3: I think we should move on to our next question, the subject of this one is I feel like I am losing my queerness difference.
S5: I cannot as a lesbian five years ago to my family and friends, having considered myself bisexual for 10 years before that, I have many friends and I’m heavily involved in the community, even running a few queer extracurricular activities. I work in the trades with ninety nine point nine percent men or I’m considered the token lesbian. We all get along great and I’ve never looked twice at any man since coming out. We recently went back to work after covid and I was put on a crew with a coworker I’ve been friendly with for the last year. After a few days, he walked past me and I felt instantly attracted to him. We started chatting outside of work and eventually hung out and hooked up is sexy, funny and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. We’ve shared interests, the same ideas for what we want for the future. I have never felt chemistry or compatibility like this before, especially after five years of exclusively dating women and many go nowhere. First dates. I’ve told a few friends about him and some family members. I’m so happy, but I can’t help but feel like I’m abandoning my queerness, my community and a huge piece of myself that loves women. I simply feel like I can’t relate because I’m now in the straight relationship and I feel ashamed. Well, this feeling of guilt and abandonment go away.
S1: I never want to promise somebody that their feelings will go away, so I’ll start by saying I don’t think I can. Answer that question, but as to the question of like, are there things that people can do about this kind of feeling? Are there ways that I can tend to it, address it, invite my friends and community into it, find ways to figure out what is a useful emotion that can inspire me to change something or do something that I think will be helpful versus what is a feeling that is not exactly like a waste of my time because a feeling is what it is, but something that I don’t necessarily need to assign a lot of weight to, if that makes sense. And I do think that that is achievable.
S3: Totally, yeah, from my experience that there’s truly feelings don’t just tend to go away on their own and be fine, that there’s some sort of having to deal with them for sure. Right. Right.
S1: So my my read here on the bit of like my coworkers are ninety nine point nine percent men. I don’t normally look twice at any man. There was this weird day where this guy walked past me. It feels a little bit like. I think in an attempt to justify something you can you can let go of, like, it felt a little bit like I never wanted this to happen, but I just work with so many guys. And then there was this wacky day and and, you know, you don’t have to, like, run the numbers on this or like apologize for the fact that you met a guy that you want to be with. I think that’s something that even if you do feel at various moments. Anything from complexity to guilt around, I don’t think you should present this information to other people as like. Well, before I tell you about the person I’m seeing, let me explain first. All my co-workers are guys like, did you know what I mean? Like, I don’t mean to say that to be hard on the letter writer at all. I just mean, like, you shouldn’t, I think, begin by apologizing for being interested in your boyfriend.
S3: Totally. Yeah. I can totally appreciate the wanting to be defensive about your position of not not being prone to whimsy or that this is something that you haven’t thought about or something but, you know, makes the connection that you have to your identity and if like flimsy or something like that. I agree that there is there’s no need to try and explain.
S1: You know, the circumstances that led up to this, right, and the same thing, like I’m not quite sure what to do about that line of like five years of exclusively dating women and many, quote, go nowhere. First dates. I understand on the one hand that part of what you’re trying to explain is, look, my last five years of dating were kind of characterized by a lack of serious interest in chemistry. And then I met someone who I just kind of instantly felt a spark with, and that was really exciting. So on that sense, I absolutely get it. But the way that it’s written, again, it kind of reads a little bit like, well, I spent five years trying to date women exclusively and it just was kind of dull, so. Again, it feels like you’re trying to, like, build a case for explaining why it’s OK and I think you should do whenever possible, like setting that down so that you can just say, I met somebody and I’m incredibly interested in him and we’re really happy. And so you can also talk about, like, the ways in which it’s complicated because you didn’t envision yourself with a guy and because you also want to, like, maintain your place in your community of queer people. And there I think you have all the place, all the room in the world to talk about the complexity are like trying to figure out, like, how do I do that? Who are the people that I want to seek out for support in this? How do I want to make sure that I can still prioritize the career extracurricular activities with or without my boyfriend’s presence, depending on like whether or not we often bring our partners to this sort of thing. But but the guilt should not be the justification should not be the work around all that should not have anything to do with like why you felt attracted to this guy. It’s good that you felt attracted to him. It’s good to feel attracted to the person that you want to date. That is an unmitigated good. It’s not something you have to earn by going on a lot of bad dates. First and only then can people like grudgingly say, fine, it’s allowed. Like it’s good that you think your boyfriend is hot. Congratulations. I’m glad.
S3: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. And this is another thing that comes into play or something that, like, I have to constantly remind myself of, too. Is that like just because your most recent experience was something. Is the most recent. It doesn’t mean that that’s defining. Your experience right now? That makes sense, like the most recent thing that happened does not mean that the other stuff that came before it was wrong or is now a race. It’s just all part of like your biography and the. Having experience as a lesbian for so many years also like that, that is still absolutely valid and doesn’t get somehow canceled out by then being in a heterosexual relationship.
S1: Yeah, or yeah. And again, like a lot of this stuff seems to be coming from within and. That doesn’t mean it’s your job to now stamp it out, but just remind yourself, I think that you can talk about these feelings, you can sit with them, process them, share them with your friends. It’s also not something that other people are doing to you. And, you know, you say I simply feel like I can’t relate because I’m now in a straight relationship and I feel ashamed. I never want to encourage someone to just sit with, like, yeah, you should feel like your relationship is something you’re getting away with or you should be ashamed of. So certainly I think to talk about this with your boyfriend, like. I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should call this a straight relationship. I understand that it sounds like your boyfriend is straight. I also understand that you do not understand yourself as straight. So, again, you don’t have to call it that if you don’t want to. But, you know, you’re your boyfriend is in a relationship with someone who’s been out for a pretty long time and who has dated a lot of women. And so that needs to be something that you two can talk about in your relationship without fear or shame or embarrassment or a sense that it’s something you have to now dismiss or disown because you’re happy with him. So, yeah, I would say put a lot of sunlight on these feelings. I bet you can still relate to people even though you have a boyfriend. Now, like, I don’t think that erased your memory of what the last 15 years have been like and of the way that you still feel about women in general now. So, yeah, I think some of this is good to talk about in the hopes that you can let it go. And that’s not to say you’re going to feel great tomorrow, but you don’t have to leave any of these activities. You don’t have to give up any of your friends. You don’t have to stop remembering like other girlfriends you had in the past just because you like your boyfriend now and trust that people are going to be a little kinder to you than you are to yourself.
S3: Totally. Yeah. And there might be some people who, you know, don’t get it or don’t understand what that, you know, experience has been like. But that doesn’t mean that it’s your responsibility to explain it to them and make them understand. Like, if they don’t, that’s fine. But it doesn’t mean anything about how you should feel about yourself.
S1: Yeah. All right. Next letter, subject Light Dorning Dear Prudence, I’m a gay man. About nine years ago, I was involved with a guy I really cared about. In many ways, the feeling was mutual, but he didn’t want a relationship. And I did. After three years of ups and downs and a lot of talking, he ended our friendship. I respected his decision. And aside from writing an affirming response to a forum post he made about being in pain, I’ve stayed out of his life. I know from mutual friends that he’s moved away and has made a new life for himself. I’m happy for him. Weirdly, he recently attended the wedding of another ex-boyfriend who lives in the same city. I saw him in the pictures on social media, standing in the crowd at the reception. I have no idea how they know each other. I’ve done a lot of reflecting and I realized I was awful to him. I caused him pain and uncertainty, all those things I pushed back on. He was right and I was wrong. I didn’t understand or accept that at the time. I’ve had other relationships since I’ve tried to apply the lessons I learned and walked away from relationships that weren’t working. I know that we will very likely never speak again. In the past several months, as the world has been wrenched by the pandemic, I’ve thought about letting him know that he was right and I understand how horrible I was to him and apologizing. I’m not looking for a response. It’s not exactly like a 12 step action, but I want to acknowledge that I did wrong. I would say I’m sorry I was hardheaded and didn’t listen to the things you were telling me. I took scraps of affection and tried to make them into a relationship when all the time you were adamant that they were just scraps. I’m sorry I hurt you and I hope you have the happy, fulfilling life you always deserve. That’s it. You don’t have to respond. And I’d prefer you didn’t. But I would like you to know that light eventually dawned over Marblehead here. It’s probably a bad idea. And you can tell me to write a letter and burn it or send it off with no stamp or return address and let it spend eternity in the dead letter office of that city across the continent. But at the same time, I can’t help thinking he should hear that. I understand now.
S3: Oh, this is always the tough thing of like, do I get in contact with the person to say just that I’m sorry? It’s a really, really tough, tough call to make.
S1: Yeah, I think there’s two things in this letter that give me pause about how fully this letter writer has experienced a revelation. The first is, you know, there’s there’s a lot of stuff about ups and downs wanting different things, lots of talking, but it’s really unclear, like when the friendship ended. Did this guy tell you, don’t talk to me again? Did he make a request specifically? It feels like there’s something missing there. And then the other thing that I’m concerned about is the apology includes something that is remarkably self pitying, which is I’m sorry, I took scraps of affection and tried to make them into a relationship when all the time you were adamant that they were just scraps. That is a sentence that says, I’m really sorry that I was like a desperate urchin and you were a lordly baron knocking crusts of bread off of your table and telling me, don’t read anything into this. And I was nipping about your heels, desperate to fashion it into a meal. Like it’s very, very self pitying. And I’m just curious if you truly think that this guy was right and you were wrong. Do you still believe it’s true that he was throwing scraps to you or do you believe that he was saying to you, here’s what I want and you ignored him and pushed? Because that’s very different than taking a scrap. Do you feel like I’m being too hard on the letter writer there? Do you think that might have just been like a poetic turn of phrase? And I’m reading too much into it because that may very well be possible?
S3: No, I think that’s a really actually it’s a it’s a good point because I think. In trying to let someone know, you know, that you’re sorry or that you’ve thought about things differently and that you want to apologize, that with the hopes of kind of like making amends in some cosmic level, either with them or just for yourself, that. You don’t want to try and describe the situation as you saw it from your point of view. In a way that I don’t know characterizes the nature of the apology. I know that that’s complicated, but I think that it’s yeah, it’s kind of saying, like, I’ve seen the situation for completely what it is. And this is the way that I saw it. And here’s like the emotional subtext of that. I don’t think that that gives the other person a chance to just kind of remain with their own experience and, you know, have that as being the context that they’re hearing the apology and rather than this is the context as I see it. And this is what I’m apologizing for in this context.
S1: Yeah, yeah. I would just say it’s possible that I read too much into that. And you were just attempting to be poetic, but. If you were to try to send an apology and you were truly prepared to never hear a response, like if you can honestly say if I send this and he never, ever acknowledges it, I will not follow up, I will not ask our mutual friends if he said anything. I will not try to get in touch either directly or indirectly, to try to get a response out of him. And if you can’t answer that question honestly to yourself, don’t do it. And if you’re not sure that you can trust yourself, to be honest with yourself, ask a friend’s advice, a friend whose judgment you trust, who you think generally has a pretty good read on situations like this one. But yeah, if you’re going to send an apology, don’t don’t say I took scraps of affection. Be honest and clear like you set limits and I ignored them. If you really think that you did wrong, that’s not how you phrase what you did wrong, because that that, again, it just it’s an attempt to mitigate. Like, I was so desperate. You gave me so little. Who wouldn’t, you know, even as you’re apologizing. So you really need to figure out how to word an apology that takes real responsibility. And that doesn’t mean an apology has to be you like crawling on your knees calling yourself a monster either. But it means that you should be clear rather than poetic. You should say, what is the thing that you believe you did wrong and apologize for it. So if you can’t do those things, if you can’t answer that first question about really taking no response for an answer to your satisfaction, don’t do it. And if you’re not able to rewrite this in such a way that’s clear about what you think you did wrong, don’t send it. If you can do both of those things and you would like to send it, it’s been a few years. It doesn’t sound like when he ended the friendship, you know, unless one handed the friendship, he was like, you must never contact me again. You have hurt me so much. I never, ever want to hear from you if it was something short of that. Yeah, OK, go ahead and send it. But then think about what will you do if he never responds, how else will you address that part of you that is in need of closure or care or support? You know, who else can you seek that out from, whether that be friends or a therapist or a support group? Anything else? Sorry, I know I’ve been kind of rambling on this one, and I’ll just end it with this. It’s great to want to apologize to someone when you realize what you did wrong. And it’s great to want to apologize when you realize they may or may not decide to forgive me. That’s OK. I’m not doing this because I need them to forgive me. I’m doing this because they deserve an apology. And that’s a little bit different from he should hear that. I understand now. Maybe that’s an unfair quibble. Maybe that’s splitting hairs, but I don’t think he’s in his new good, exciting life thinking I won’t be at peace until I know this guy understands. I think it’s more a question of. He deserves an apology because I did not give him one at the time when he needed it, and I want to offer it now and if he doesn’t want to hear it, I will back off not I have to make him. He has to know that I understand, because that to me, again, feels like it’s grasping a little bit for I want to have one last moment of emotional intimacy. And I think I’m just being really hard here because I think it’s so difficult to be honest with ourselves about our motives, especially when it comes to somebody that we know either is mad at us or no longer thinks well of us or doesn’t want to be in contact with us. And it can be really hard because it’s like unless this person thinks well of me, I can’t think well of myself. And I understand that that’s difficult and painful. And that part of what you just want is to feel better. But. The apology and the work of feeling better about yourself are two different things, I think. And with that, I will shut my mouth.
S3: Yeah, no, I think I think that it’s on a lot of really, really good points. And I think particularly also like apologies should not be contingent on whether the person fully understands and empathizes with what you’re saying, like an apology for the sake of having an apology and just like wanting someone to hear that you are sorry for something and that you want to, you know, hopefully make amends. But if anything, you just recognizing like that was that was bad of me. I recognize that. And I want you to know that I recognize that. I think that that’s that’s great.
S5: I think the feeling of like, well, I’m going to apologize. And if they understand this, they’re going to feel better. I think that that’s a kind of a tough assumption to make. But if you just treat it with the idea that, like, OK, apologies don’t always make people feel better about a situation, even if they completely understand the apology and write the letter from that point of view. I think that that’s that’s much better served.
S1: Yeah, yeah, I think so too. Good luck. It’s important work that you’ve begun and I hope you’re able to continue pursuing it. And I also hope that I don’t sound like I just think you’re the worst person in the world. I absolutely don’t. I’m so glad that you’re reexamining the things that you did wrong. And it doesn’t sound like any of it rose to the level of like, oh, God, how could I ever live with myself? I just I just think you’re halfway through a process that you think you’re close to done with. And I think a half thought through apology is often worse than none at all.
S3: So I just want you to pause until you feel more confident that you’ve done all that work totally to to know that someone who hurt you is putting a lot of thought and effort and work into understanding that situation and trying to see themselves more clearly with the sake of, you know, wanting to be a better person. Just the effort alone means a lot. And so even if it’s just not exactly the sort of apology that I would want to hear from somebody just even knowing that they’re working through it, that sometimes it’s just completely sufficient.
S1: Yeah, we have one last question. It is long and I am sorry for that. But I’m also glad it’s long because it needed to be long so I could give them a short answer.
S3: Sounds good. Hmm. Would you read it or.
S5: The subject of this letter is newly out struggles with problematic friendship difference. I’m a white woman who recently came out at the tender age of 30. It’s been rewarding and I’m overall thrilled, but it’s also been very heavy at times. I live in a very progressive Midwestern city and most of my friends are out themselves and I have felt affirmed and supported, except for one friend who I’ll call Jenny. Jenny is a straight white woman. She definitely has a reputation for being strong since my coming out, Jenny has behaved in ways that are at best careless, at worst somewhat homophobic. She has repeatedly centered conversations about my queerness by telling me she wishes she could be a lesbian, but, quote, cannot imagine eating pussy and how she is, quote, tragically straight. At one point, she compared her experience as a straight woman to coming out as queer. I have trouble letting her microaggression go because they hurt my feelings. So things have been somewhat tense. This all came to a head a few days ago when I mentioned I was talking to a man online. She said, oh, I just assumed you were only talking to women. Now, I made a joke about still determining the mix of people and genders I was interested in. She then told me she feels like she can’t win. When we talk about my identity, I told her that I needed her to listen more and I felt sometimes she often centered the conversation around herself. She got pretty defensive, saying that she was already listening and that I knew she didn’t mean to say things like that. She also seemed remorseful and expressed wanting to be supportive. She admitted most of her friends were, quote, already super gay when she met them and didn’t have a ton of experience supporting people who were coming out. Finally, she said, quote, I guess I’m realizing coming out is a bigger deal than I thought. She never apologized for hurting my feelings. I went home that night feeling completely steamrolled, like I was being dramatic and that maybe it wasn’t a big deal to come out as if because my friends and family aren’t disowning me, it means my conflicting emotions aren’t valid, as if my friends and family weren’t disowning me. It means my conflicting emotions aren’t valid. On the other hand, she maybe seems willing to learn. But on the other hand, I leave every conversation with her feeling invalidated and unheard and more confused than ever. None of my other friends, including my other straight friends, have made me feel this way. But I also recognize that the LGBTQ plus community, I’m incredibly privileged and use that privilege to educate others not in our community, but I feel so vulnerable and taking on this emotional burden feels overwhelming. Am I being dramatic? Should I salvage this friendship?
S1: So the question of whether or not there’s anything dramatic in here, I want to leave to the side, I think what I see is this person’s main problem is the idea that you can’t just stop being friends with someone because you don’t like them. Like you have to frame it as an issue of, you know, they’ve crossed too many lines, they’ve done too many bad things. They don’t accept gay people. I have to build like a universal moral case against them such that everyone agrees that they are beyond redemption. And only then can I stop hanging out with them. And I think you can make your life so much more simpler and say, I don’t like Jenny. Jenny is often rude. Jane doesn’t do a great job listening. When I tell her she hurts my feelings, I’m annoyed spending time with her. She often puts her foot in her mouth. Maybe sometimes it’s well intended, but sometimes it feels kind of like she wants to stir the pot. I don’t like it. I don’t want to go to the movies with her anymore. That’s all you need, you know.
S3: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it is that thing of like you don’t have to have a well thought out diagram of all the different transgressions a person is made in order to tell them that you don’t want to be friends with them anymore. You could just say you make me feel bad. I don’t think we can be friends anymore and leave it at that.
S1: Yeah, and it doesn’t matter. Like, if she’s willing to learn or not, you are not obligated to be friends with somebody you don’t like just because they’ve demonstrated a willingness to learn this. This turns friendship into this sort of like ongoing moral project. And I certainly have given advice often to the tune of like, if you have a friend who you think is doing something truly wrong and you really love them, like, I do often encourage people to to try to hold them to account and have difficult conversations. But this is like, you know. She’s a it doesn’t sound like she’s a long standing, super close friend, I just don’t think you need to make it your job to teach her about validity. Some of the stuff that she’s done sounds kind of like garden variety, rude and annoying. And some of it sounds like homophobic, even if she doesn’t think of herself as a super homophobic person. So all of this is just to say, sure, you can absolutely, you know, tell her you make me feel unheard and invalidated and I can never be around you again. But also, I know I’m privileged within the LGBT community again, like, this is not you’re not being asked to rank yourselves along a privileged scale and then assign yourself various friendship tasks to atone for that privilege. Like this is such a I think you kind of share something in common with the last letter. Where there’s this idea of your job in life is to find out how many privilege points you have. And then as a result of those points, you check other people’s scores and that tells you whether or not you’re allowed to be mad at them or whether you have to educate them or whether you have to say you’re never allowed to talk to me again. I hope that didn’t sound to like get off my lawn.
S3: No, not at all. No, I think it’s it’s one of those things I think you’re highlighting is also just because you can does not mean that you should and a person’s intentions of wanting to be able to have better conversations about this. It’s fine. It doesn’t mean that just trying or just wanting to be better at something gives them all the space that they need to be misunderstanding and ignore somebody else’s feelings. Sometimes I think it’s super telling that she phrased it as she feels like she can’t win when we talk about my identity. Right. No other person should be trying to win. When they talk to you about your identity, it’s your identity. It’s such a weird goal for her to have. Totally. And I think that that betrays what I think I’m getting at is that it’s it sounds like, yes, she is trying to generally move towards the idea of being a better person for people to talk to about their identity. She is still going about it the wrong way. And I think with that, it’s it’s not like this is on the right track.
S4: Yeah. I just think, like, I want you to feel like you don’t have to expend all of your energy on rehabilitating Jenny. You can just say to Jenny, like, I’ve been pretty annoyed by our last couple of conversations about our identity. So, like, let’s not you know, and you can either say like you can either interrupt her if she starts to do it again or just let her know. I’m not interested in talking about that anymore. Can avoid her at group events. I don’t think you have to treat her like a person you can never say hello to. But just, you know, don’t share personal details about your life with her, seek out other friendships. Let her know that these conversations have been frustrating. And you don’t like it if she tries to tell you about her feelings about like, quote unquote, eating pussy, just be like, I’m not interested in your opinions about eating pussy. Be strong back at her. And if it’s hard for you to speak really directly or confrontational at somebody, that’s OK, too. You can just say, I don’t want to have this conversation and practice if you need to. You don’t have to have, like, hilarious kiss offs and ways of shutting her down. But you can just tell her, like, I don’t need your opinion about how gay somebody else is. I’m not interested in your opinion about, like, gay sex. Let’s just talk about something else. And then if she bugs you, she bugs you. She sounds annoying. She sounds sometimes homophobic, sometimes like she’s trying to figure something out and maybe eventually will figure it out. But you’re putting way too much work in front of yourself if you’re trying to say either it’s my job to educate her because within the greater LGBT community, I’m incredibly privileged.
S1: That’s not, I think, a useful way of thinking about either privilege or being part of a community or friendship. Friendship is as much about am I having a good time? Do I like them as it is about, are they doing good things? And, you know, you say that it feels overwhelming. I feel too vulnerable. That’s a great indicator that you don’t need to trust her with further vulnerabilities and that you can just fucking avoid her.
S3: Yeah, and I think it goes back to the thing that you don’t have to know what sort of response that you want from somebody or know what sort of like direction it should go in next in order to explain upset to someone like you can just tell someone that they have upset you and not know or take responsibility for what you want them to do with that information.
S4: Yeah, like, none of this is necessarily stuff that has to rise to the level of like she has to try to make it right with you. You can just be like, you know what, I don’t enjoy these conversations. Let’s not have them anymore. And she can just leave you the fuck alone when it comes to who you’re dating and who you’re talking about, you have every right to set that limit. So I just I want you to make less work for yourself. I don’t think that you’re being dramatic. I think you have every reason to object to the way that she talks to you. It sounds frustrating and homophobic and annoying and also just like dumb jokes that are tired. And I just want you to feel like you don’t have to justify your dislike of someone as a referendum on whether or not they’re a salvageable human being. It’s genuinely just a question of like, do I want to be friends with this person? Do I get something out of it? Not like if if I am too high on the privilege scale, I have to be friends with people I don’t like because that’s my job as penance. That’s just not I think that is a misreading of what like the work of social justice is trying to do.
S3: Right. Identity does not come in with Bakhtin responsibilities.
S4: Yeah. And if you feel like something’s being asked of you but no one’s actually asking it of you, it’s a good thing to kind of double check that feeling. Oh, Ben, did I have opinions today?
S3: A couple. Yeah, I had some, too.
S1: I did. I did. And it was just so great to get to hear your voice again. And I’m really looking forward to hopefully being able to see you later this week and hang out in a non-professional capacity. Yeah, I would love that.
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 slash. Pretty positive to sign up. If you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message for zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three to seven. And you might hear your answer on an episode of the show. You don’t have to use your real name or location, and at your request we can even alter the sound of your voice. Keep it short, 30 seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening.
S1: And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. We’ve all seen that, like California reopened bars in a number of counties and pretty quickly said, oh, my God, we have to undo that, I’m sorry, like it didn’t work. It’s not going well. Nothing has changed. It is not a more treatable disease now than it was in March. So I’m not really sure that I understand what you mean by we can’t live in fear until there’s a vaccine. If by living in fear, you mean practicing social distancing and wearing masks, I would disagree that that is the same thing is living in fear. I would also suggest that coronavirus does not respond to either fear or courage. It’s not like a villain from Sailor Moon that can be defeated through the power of friendship. To listen to the rest of that conversation, join Slate plus now at Slate dot com forward slash Prudy Pod.