Sour Gripes

Sour Gripes

Sour Gripes

Advice on manners and morals.
March 30 2000 11:30 PM

Sour Gripes

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Dear Prudence,

The holidays are long gone, but the family problems are still here. My son left home, full of hostility, to "find himself." He's educated and hard working. The place where he felt happy was at his girlfriend's home. Her parents have a different lifestyle. There is a mother who rivals Martha Stewart and a father who earns a good salary. (I'm a single mom who struggled to raise two kids, both of whom went through college.) My son got their sympathy by making me out to be the wicked witch who threw him out of the house. (Not true.) Now that he has married this girl—they live several states away—when they come to visit they stay with her family. There are many parties during these times, and I am always invited at the last minute—via e-mail.

With all the bad stories about me, I feel defensive. And my lifestyle isn't like theirs—no nice home, a lot less money. The only thing I have to offer is myself. I'm a very interesting, traveled person, and do things many don't do. As a creative person I tell a good story and meet wonderful people. The girl's mother is a social climber who likes to surround herself with ... well, you know. She'd feel less trapped if I lived on the moon. That way she could have the newlyweds all to herself. That also would avoid the tension between my son and me, or should I say, the discrepancy of stories? Yes, I do contact the other mother by phone just to say "hello," but she never reciprocates the gesture. I know the couple has come to town and never contacted me. Perhaps you have some ideas.

—Mrs. Globetrotter

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Dear Mrs. Globe,

Prudie, indeed, has some ideas, but doubts they are the ones you might be expecting. Something has gone on in your relationship with your son that you are either not reporting or are unable to recognize and admit. A youngster does not become "full of hostility," aimed at his mother, for no reason. Children do not make up "bad stories" to get in good with a girlfriend's family, nor do they crave "sympathy." Children do not switch allegiance to the beloved's family because they have a nicer house. Your version is skewed and, Prudie might add, tinged with a whiff of victimhood and self-pity, not to mention competitiveness with your son's in-laws. Your very interesting, well-traveled, creative self may have been so self-involved that when the young man had the chance, he made a break for it. It is also possible that the "social-climbing mother" is cool to you not because she is snobbish, but because she knows you make her son-in-law uncomfortable. Prudie suggests you take another (realistic) look at what's gone on between you and your son. And if Prudie's instincts are incorrect—and everything is as you say—you still cannot change your son's feelings about you. As for the parties, one thing about not being invited is you don't have to make excuses to leave early.

—Prudie, directly

Dear Prudence,

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I am a demure lit. major with a strong aversion to sorority girls—a prejudice, I admit. Unfortunately, I live next door to three, which is often more like six because sorority girls tend to accumulate. The problem is that they are incapable of having a conversation. They can't communicate without yelling, growling, and sound effects. (They also squeal and make barfing noises, but that is neither here nor there.) The problem is that their ruckus interrupts my reading or wakes me up. I have tried to be good-natured about it and have gone over to ask will-you-please-be-quiet-thank-you. This request is met with more noise outside my door. What would be your couth response to my inconsiderate neighbors?

—Greek to Me

Dear Greek,

There is no couth response to the special effects department you describe. Any girls who yell, growl, squeal, and make barfing noises are beyond polite requests. What you need to do is go to whichever grown-up has the authority in your residence and state your problem. And if you're feeling charitable, you might also hope these girls don't get Dutch elm disease.

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—Prudie, sympathetically

Dear Prudence,

My brother and his girlfriend have been living together for six or seven years now (he is 28, she is 35). At the beginning of last week, he went to one of the local jewelry establishments and looked at a few engagement rings with a view to getting one in the near future. Come the end of the week, he's about to go back to the jeweler's, and his girlfriend discloses she is pregnant. He is overjoyed (as is the rest of the family). There is no pressing social or legal reason for them to get married. Both sets of parents are entirely relaxed about my brother and his girlfriend having a child despite their unwed status.

However, my brother still wants to pop the question. The question for you, Prudie, is how can he do so in a way that doesn't look as though it is driven by his girlfriend's condition? Should he wait until after the birth? Should he wait a couple of weeks? Any advice would be gratefully received.

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—Elder Brother in New York

Dear El,

Prudie imagines you have been deputized to pose the question, so here is the answer. We are talking symbolism here. In terms of popping the question, one may assume that it's already been answered—in the affirmative—seeing as how a blessed event is anticipated, and everyone is overjoyed. As for becoming engaged in a way that doesn't look like a shotgun situation: Doesn't look that way to whom?! This group sounds way beyond caring how things look—and how wonderful. Prudie can think of no better reason to get engaged than because a baby is coming, so your bro should choose whatever time feels right to him. Prudie's only suggestion would be that the prospective groom not get down on one knee in the delivery room, because that would be the talk of the town.

—Prudie, joyously

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Dear Prudence,

I have had the same best friend for seven years. We are very close, but he doesn't know I'm gay. I have recently fallen for him. What do I do? How do I tell him my feelings without upsetting him or losing a close friend? Thank you.

—mark

Dear mark,

Prudie begs to differ with you about your close friend not knowing you're gay. Seven years is a long time to play act about one's social life, dates, opinions, etc. Coming out is an essential part of self-esteem for gay people. To have secrets and pretense in a friendship makes no sense. You will find it liberating to announce what may already be known. There is a chance, of course, that your buddy may be one of nature's bachelors who is closeted, as well. (You say nothing of this chap's situation. A wife? A girlfriend?) There's also a chance, if he's straight, he may feel uncomfortable with your declaration (the orientation and/or the romantic inclination) and call it a day. Then you must let go and go on. Another possibility is that he will say, "So?" and you will still be best friends.

—Prudie, supportively