Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 30 2006 5:43 AM

Upstairs, Downstairs?

I can't bear being around my boyfriend's rich, entitled friends.

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Dear Prudence,
For the past few years, I've been dating a man in a significantly different socioeconomic class from mine. Between the two of us, this isn't much of a problem because his wealthy parents raised him with humility and social awareness, but among some of his friends, I often feel horrified by their entitled attitudes. They complain about having three weeks in Italy this summer and how boring that will get. They turn to me and ask which is my favorite thing about France, the city or the countryside? When I politely remind them of my status, which includes having been really hungry with nothing to fall back on, never having traveled to Europe, and paying for my own education, they say, "Oh, how lovely to have had that experience! You should write a novel about it!" How can a poor person politely explain to a wealthy one that their bourgeois dilemmas are hurtful to hear about, and that having one's painful experiences ironically aestheticized is no favor?

—Ex-Redneck Grad Student

Dear Ex,
Maybe you've been watching too much Masterpiece Theatre—these people aren't viscounts and duchesses and you're not the scullery maid, they just grew up with more money than you. You made it out from poverty and are putting yourself through graduate school, where you can flaunt your vocabulary—"ironically aestheticized" indeed. Yes, it is obnoxious to assume everyone's traveled to France. But in response to your self-pitying tale, suggesting you write a novel was certainly more polite than pointing out that the chip on your shoulder is the size of the Appalachians. Spending the evening referring to your financial status makes you a bore—and that's true whether you're rich or poor. If you can't find more congenial topics to discuss when you're with these people, at least you can have some laughs with your boyfriend later about their cruel fate at having to spend three weeks in Italy.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My elderly father has a history of holding unreasonable grudges against family members. About six years ago, he decided he had been slighted by my husband, and no amount of apology or pleading that it was a misunderstanding would change his mind. I was hurt, but took my children to visit him sans husband because he is their grandfather. My kids don't know about the rift—they were always told Daddy couldn't come to Grandpa's because he had to work. Last fall, my beloved husband died after an accident. My father has been supportive, and we are visiting him in a few weeks. But the resentment that was simmering over the whole issue is now eating me alive. My husband was a wonderful man, as witnessed by the fact that there were hundreds of people at his funeral and articles about his life and accomplishments. I know my father isn't going to change his mind, but I feel that he owes me an apology for the way he treated my husband. If I don't get it, I'm afraid I will explode at him and say something to destroy what's left of our relationship. His health is failing and he probably won't be around much longer, but this anger is just killing me.

—Bereaved

Dear Bereaved,
It's understandable that your father's cruelty toward your husband would feel so corrosive right now. But the father you describe does not sound like a man who will recognize the wrong he did or apologize for it. You were mature enough to keep up a civil relationship with your father. Because of that he has a good relationship with your children and they will probably cling to him. You mention that he's quite ill, so his death will be another blow to them. Since you already know you will not get the thing you need—and deserve—from your father, you must figure out how to see him without letting it tear you up. Could you write a letter before you go, explaining what an apology would mean to you and give it to him when you leave? Can you let your children spend a lot of time with him, while you spend as little as possible? If you decide you simply can't stand not saying something, can you save it until you are departing? Be proud that you and your husband always behaved well toward your father, despite his provocations. Remembering that might help you get through this visit. Then, when you're back home consider seeing a grief counselor. Not just because of this issue, but because you have been through a terrible trauma, and you should do anything for yourself that will bring comfort.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I have been seeing a man since fall of last year. We live near each other and have been seeing each other almost every single day. He says he loves me, and we have met each other's parents and family members numerous times. I'm in my mid-20s and he's in his 30s. I have dated enough to know that he is the one for me. But he has issues with marriage, which were expressed in my last conversation about it with him. I don't want a large, fancy, ultra-expensive wedding (just a civil ceremony and a small dinner party for family and friends). He adores me and treats me like a queen. Am I being too pushy if I were to broach the idea of engagement? How long should I wait for him to pop the question?

—Wishing for Marriage

Dear Wishing,
Are you wishing for a marriage or are you just wishing for a wedding? It sounds as if you're already contemplating what the entrée will be at your reception, even though there's no indication your boyfriend is going to show up as the groom. As for his "issues" with marriage, did he declare, "I can give you a notarized statement saying I will never marry"? Or did he scurry away from the topic because you were pressuring him? Maybe the issue is that he's not ready to get married to someone he's been dating for only six months. You're young—just enjoy that everything is wonderful so far, and let the relationship unfold. After you've been together a year, then it seems reasonable to have a discussion (and make it a discussion, not a demand for an engagement ring) about where you both feel things might go. But if you're going to be audibly counting down the minutes that whole time until you can reserve the caterer, it will probably go nowhere.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I'm 21 years old and living with my parents. The other night I was over at a neighbor's house with a few others in my neighborhood. The one neighbor, who is much older than me and married with two kids, started talking to me. We've had some pretty deep conversations before about my past because I have gone through extremely hard times. Both of us had been drinking and pretty soon, everyone was in bed and we were still talking about me. After a little while we went inside to get some more drinks. Before I knew it, we were on his couch kissing, while his wife and kids were sleeping upstairs. I woke up the next morning shocked at what I did. I am not this type of person. I'm so afraid that this was his first time ever cheating on his wife and that I've ruined their marriage. We haven't talked since the incident but I want to apologize. Was what happened even wrong? I'm so confused.

—Not That Type

Dear Not,
I feel confident reassuring you that your encounter is not the first time something like this has ever happened to him, and that he'd probably be delighted for you to ruin his marriage some more. Yes, what you did was wrong, but relatively minor (assuming it stopped at kissing). Who do you want to apologize to—him? Nah. The wife? Double nah. You have made a good start with what to do now—nothing. Keep not talking to him, although since you're neighbors, you might have to occasionally nod hello. He has graphically instructed you that an older, married man who wants to have liberally lubricated conversations about your problems is a creep. If he wants to get you alone to "explain" or "apologize" rebuff him. And the fewer nights you spend drunk, the fewer mornings you'll spend convincing yourself you're not "this type of person."

—Prudie